Friday, September 25, 2009

Say what you like but...

I think Dora started it.

That blond can pack a punch, but your kid's favorite bilingual football-head fears nothing.

Talk about unflinching optimism!

Hasta la vista, blondie!

Any reason for this post? No, not really, but if I am to milk some meager pedagogical tidbit out of these purely cathartic photos it would be that realism isn't always your best choice. I gave a cross-processed and highly contrasted look to these photos because—hey!—we are talking about a fight with a cartoon figure here. I admit, I was tempted to give it a gritty black and white Raging Bull feel, but then I would have had to call it "Raving Bull" and then you would just want to hit me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three views outside of Saint-Sulpice in Paris

Serendipity at work. I had just assigned the next photo project to my students—something on the theme of religion and/or transformation—when I happened upon the following in front of Saint-Sulpice church (the church that no tourists ever visited until the Da Vinci Code cast it in a dramatic conspiratorial role):

A diptych of a visitor and an unexpected attraction.

A larger view of the right...

and left sides of the diptych.

And my favorite shot:

The three friends doing a subversive photo project in front of the church look to be of North African heritage (probably Algerian). They were using a blue veil made of tulle (at times worn like a hijab) as part of their provocative poses. To my surprise, the woman begging in the foreground—Starbucks coffee cup in hand—thought it was just great.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

10 seconds at the Paris Techno Parade

Warning for sensitive viewers: the following contains people giving me the finger.

Here are 14 frames that represent 10 seconds of my experience at the Paris Techno Parade on Saturday.

A group of guys arrived near the end of the parade to have some fun bulldozing their way through the crowd. One of them noticed me taking a photo of a bandaged guy and suddenly the whole group was coming at me in a manner that was both playful and dangerous. I have to say that I loved the adrenaline rush of the experience.

I took the photos while walking backwards in order to avoid being surrounded. When it looked like I was about to get mauled, I bowed out in as friendly a way possible.

Here they are in order. Which of the 14 frames is your favorite?

frame 1

frame 2

frame 3

frame 4

frame 5

frame 6

frame 7

frame 8

frame 9

frame 10

frame 11

frame 12

frame 13

frame 14

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Paris Techno Parade as seen through the Auguste Comte bus stop

I spent a good part of yesterday destroying my ear drums while being pushed along by mobs of techno enthusiasts who were bouncing their way through the Latin Quarter and on to Place de la Bastille. This was not a demonstration, but a "techno Parade," but if you ask me, ça revient au même—it's pretty much the same thing. Hordes of people, a mob mentality for better (solidarity) and for worse (violence), a mixture of exuberance and danger. Basically, one of my favorite things to see. If there is a demonstration, I'm there. If there's a riot, I shouldn't be there, but I am anyway.

I don't know how I filled up a 15 gig memory card so quickly, but maybe it had something to do with this month's "points of view" focus. Let's use a bus stop as an example:

I love the defiant use of urban structures during an event like this. I don't mean burning cars or smashing shop windows (and none of that was happening), but simply people using public space in ways that break with their intended design. Normally, I might have snapped the above photo and continued on with the crowd. With the way the guys were starting to jump on the structure, I knew it wouldn't be long before security intervened.

I cut through the crowd and worked my way to the bus stop. I love how the guy in the middle is trying to make a call on his cell phone. Good luck with that.
Once I was this close, I thought I may as well try a new perspective and go under the glass (which started to draw more photographers—an irritating side effect).
They loved the attention, probably hoping the photo would make it into the mainstream press.

This guy motioned for me to photograph him hitting a B-Boy pose and showing off his tongue piercing.

Finally, I moved to the back of the bus stop where one of the kids tried to get in one more chance to be seen. I guess he got his wish.

As in my last post, my point here is that thinking more about points of view can multiply your chances of getting photos you like. You have to move a little more—and often rather quickly—but it pays off.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Points of view: The Mona Lisa

True confession: I have lived in Paris multiple times, I go to Paris every year, I have been to the Louvre many many times, but I have never seen the Mona Lisa until today. I mean, I've seen her ad naseum—on mugs, posters, key chains, with facial hair, in a Warhol serigraph—pretty much everywhere except in the actual Louvre museum. But for no particular reason, I gave in to the inevitable this afternoon and paid a visit to every tourist's must-see work of art. Here is what I saw:

I decided to take some "points of view" photos for this month's theme (well, somebody's got to do it.) One of my favorites is the following, in which a man's arms reframe the painting quite nicely:

I also like the smirk on the blurred woman's face in the foreground. The painting seems nearly postage-stamp sized from this perspective, which pleases me because that's how I have heard it described by so many disappointed tourists over the years.

I took a fair number of photos featuring tourists taking photos with their cell phones and various devices. The blatant disregard for the "no flash" rules failed to illicit so much as a sneer from the guards and made me wonder if the museum had replaced the real painting with a gift-shop copy long ago. Trust me, no one would be the wiser.

You would think that photos like the one above would be easy to take, but that's before you realize that you are photographing a sporting event. I am no stranger to museum fatigue, and I often spend less time contemplating art than an educated person should, however, nothing had prepared me for the pace of that room: Hold up camera (or 2 out of 3 times a cell phone), snap a pick, turn around, and get out. Wave after wave of people repeated this procedure. My autofocus could not even keep up. See the blond in the middle? I had my camera on rapid-fire and she was gone before the second shot. (Add some long black hair over her face and you've got a Japanese horror movie.) The efficiency exhibited in that room made me wonder where all of these people came from. They certainly weren't at the CDG airport ten days ago.

From another point of view, the crowded room looks vacant. Although the photo is probably too small here to show it, the security guard's lips form an impossibly straight line that is enigmatic in its own right.

Finally, just as I was leaving, I saw a sophisticated woman looking right at the painting. Not at the screen on her camera. In fact, she had no camera. Her arms were crossed and she just stood there. Looking. Long enough for me to take three photos. And in the Joconde room of the Louvre, three frames is a very long time.

frame 1

frame 2

frame 3

Which do you prefer? Part of the Sam Abell-inspired theme this month is the idea of choice and editing. The photographer and the viewer may have different preferences, but often the viewer has no choice. Comments about any of my points of view on the Mona Lisa are definitely appreciated.

Monday, September 14, 2009

For more points of view: Follow the photography of some students in Paris

A photo I took today about points of view

I thought I'd point you to my "byuinparis" blog where my 28 students have just received their first photo assignment. Each week we will be studying a photographer for inspiration and then the students will post a photo essay (or a single photo this week) on the blog.

The students represent a variety of majors that have nothing to do with photography and most of them are working with point-and-shoot cameras. My goal is to help them learn to appreciate the work of important photographers and to use that knowledge to take better photos here in Paris.

Too many tourists go home with exactly the same photos (Here's me in front of the Eiffel Tower. Here's me pretending to hold the Eiffel Tower in my hands. Here's me in front of Notre Dame. etc.) Wouldn't it be great if more people thought about expressing their unique thoughts and reactions to what they see? I'm trying to keep realistic expectations, but I hope to see photos that make me understand my students unique points of view.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Another way to explore "points of view"

I went shopping for photo books today and purchased Sophie Calle's brilliant (literally—it's shiny metallic pink!) book Prenez soin de vous (that's "take care of yourself" in English). It's not hot off the press or anything (pub. 2007), but it's new to me.

The entire book is a response to a breakup email (that's right, email) that Sophie received from her lover. Ouch. But a lot of good art has been born from love gone wrong (and a lot of bad country songs too, but let's not go there). If you write songs, you can vent through music. If you are a woman in any number of cliché-laden movies or TV shows, you can pull out a spoon and dig into a tub of Ben & Jerry's. And if you are Sophie Calle, you can print out your break-up letter, let 107 women interpret it, and then turn it into a shiny pink book that is heavy enough to qualify as a weapon.

From the guy's point of view, Sophie's revenge is about as frightening as Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know." But if the boyfriend was dumb enough to email a breakup letter to a photographer/artist/writer, then I guess he had it coming.

Prenez soin de vous includes the letter in morse code, braille, shorthand, barcode, and so on. Sophie lets expert women analyze the letter in exhaustive treatises. A researcher gives a lexical analysis, an editor provides a heavily corrected copy (the text is "short and repetitive" and full of punctuation errors—not unlike my own writing), a lawyer outlines the legal ramifications of the man's false statements and misuse of grammar (a crime punishable by death in France, I believe), a clairvoyant does a tarot card reading that doesn't bode well for the man, and so on, all accompanied by Sophie Calle's photos of the women reading the letter, which made me think...

Another way to explore points of view photographically is to physically displace an object. Moving an object into different environments gives it new context and hence, a new point of view. In my Eiffel Tower photos, I provide different points of view by displacing myself (the tower having stubbornly refused to move). In Sophie's photos, as the letter moves from one woman to the next, the angles, expressions, lighting, and body language illustrate how the same words can produce different effects.

During this month, you may want to experiment with how context affects point of view. Try photographing the same thing (or person) in different conditions. See what happens.

Oh, and remember: If you break up with someone, do it in person.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

6 Views of the Eiffel Tower

We arrived in Paris today. It's been pretty crazy because our apartment has undergone renovations and EVERYTHING is coated in dust. Anyway, what could be more iconic than the Eiffel Tower. In fact, there's a whole story that I won't get into here about how proposed to my wife in Paris, but wanted to avoid the cliché view of the Eiffel Tower at all costs. Turns out, I should have proposed on the tower itself if I had wanted to avoid it. Since that time, however, we have become very attached to that ultimate tourist destination. Our first apartment in Paris had a view of the Eiffel Tower out of our bedroom window, and our current apartment is right by the Eiffel Tower.

In the Pompidou Center a few years ago, I saw a collage of dozens and dozens of views of the Eiffel Tower. It was quite beautiful. I won't claim that my 6 views are particularly striking (I had intended to show you 24, but I haven't slept in two days so...), but I thought it would be a fitting beginning to our 3 months in Paris.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September Monthly Special: Points of View

Three view of Time

Blogger has been buggy and locked me out for 3 days. I'm so glad to be back on!!!


Ever since I bought Sam Abell's latest book, The Life of a Photograph, I have been wanting to do something along the lines of "two views of" or "three views of"—in short, a month about points of view. We often talk about artists as having "a point of view"—an outlook that defines them and their work. Think of a famous musician, an artist, a chef—any well-known creative mind—and I bet you describe certain characteristics that typify their point of view. But where does that come from? I won't pretend to have the whole answer, but let me focus on one aspect: editing.

Philosophical Ramblings
If I had read Winifred Gallagher's book (and I really want to), Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, I could give you a more authoritative explanation of how we choose to pay attention to some things and ignore others. Why do some of us focus more intently on sound or smell or sight than others? How can two people live through the same moment but have different experiences? Or bringing it back to photography, "attention" and "the focused life" are two things I most associate with the process of capturing photos. As I said in my last post, when I have a project, I pay attention. I change the way I filter my world. Which brings us back to editing...

In an interview with PDN, Sam Abell explains how the editing process places value on photos. In a magazine spread, for example, one photo may get a full page and another a thumbnail-sized print. Still, another may never be printed at all. But naturally, that editorial eye is subjective (see a brilliantly entertaining example of editorial subjectivity in the documentary about Vogue magazine, The September Issue). Abell explains that his own values—or point(s) of view—are in constant flux:
There are pictures that were part of the process that now I like better than the pictures that were chosen some years ago. I was a different person, and the influences on my decision-making were different. For example, I can look at a picture that is tighter, that was chosen say ten years ago, and now I like the picture that’s more stepped back, that’s more inclusive and less concentrated or less intensely composed. (PDN)
The problem with talking about points of view is that we can quickly slip into a mindset of radical skepticism that I find useless. It may be charitable to claim that every choice is equally valid, but that doesn't mean that the wedding announcement that came in today's mail won't go into my collection of tacky treasures (mean-spirited, but oh so entertaining). And it doesn't mean that Sam Abell's older self chooses better photos than his younger self. In fact, what inspired me is how Abell gives equal value to multiple points of view and let's the reader/viewer make the judgment call.

The Monthly Special Challenge
This month I invite you to cultivate your points of view. Look at the same thing from different angles or at different moments or cropped differently or...

This is a chance to keep working on triptychs or polyptychs if you so desire and/or to hone your editing skills both at the moment of capturing the photo and in the editorial decisions. I would see more people post and link back here to share your own ideas about experimenting with points of view and about the decision-making process. This might be a time to reexamine those second-best photos in your collection or to revisit a site you have photographed. This might be a good time to get out of a rut or to decide what most defines your photography (and embrace it or modify it).

I hope to get back to more regular posts this month. I leave for Paris in 6 days, so I will see what new ideas my favorite city gives me. And I'm looking forward to your own ideas.