Foregoing Seeing in Order to Capture (Morning Musing 8/27/2014)

Posted on 27 August 2014 | Comment

Photographing Van Gogh

Capturing Van Gogh

This “morning musing” may sound just a little grumpy, but there you go.

On a recent trip through Chicago and New York City I had lots opportunities for people watching, an endlessly fascinating activity in big cities. Since many folks we say, especially in the most popular areas, were tourists (like us!) there were many people making photographs of their experience. That is a Good Thing — like most everyone, I treasure old photographs of such family activities, and I try to remember to make a few of them myself.

However, I also saw a frequent occurrence that makes me a bit sad for some of these travelers. Confronted with the opportunity for an experience, a surprising number pass up on that opportunity and instead settle for a record proving that — what? — they saw the thing or that they stood near it.

The gallery holding Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting, one of the most famous and familiar paintings today. (The gallery also contains a lot of other very wonderful work of the same calibre, for sure.) Before spending some time looking at the painting and trying to understand it, feel it, and fix in my mind many of its details, I spent some time watching the other people who were also there to view it. There were, not surprisingly, all sorts of responses — ranging from apparent boredom to rapt engagement with this work.

Among people with cameras of some sort, two ways of responding to the painting puzzled and continue to puzzle me.

The first is the apparent compulsion to make a smartphone image of the thing and then quickly move on. Actually, this goes a bit beyond puzzling me and almost leaves me stunned. On the practical level, if one really wants a photograph of the painting to review later it is trivially easy to find a really good one on the web or in a book, an image that will be far better than a handheld smartphone snap. On the affective level, it seems almost sad to see people with the opportunity to stand within feet of one of the world’s great works of visual art choose to raise a smartphone and press a virtual button rather than experiencing the actual thing.

The second is just plain bizarre. In these cases, less frequent than the first but still not uncommon, someone (mom or dad in many cases) sends other family members up next to the painting and has them pose, smiling awkwardly as the rest of us look away from the painting to watch them, for a snapshot that shows that they did, indeed, stand in the vicinity of a great painting and photograph themselves before moving on…

(To answer the inevitable and entirely appropriate question, Did I photograph the painting? — No.)

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Little Italy, Evening

Posted on 27 August 2014 | Comment

Little Italy, Evening

Little Italy, Evening

Little Italy, Evening. New York City. August 10, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Visitors pack closed streets though Manhattan’s Little Italy.

Walking more or less northwest from New York’s Chinatown district after dinner we ended up heading through Little Italy. As we walked on this Sunday evening we started seeing huge crowds of people and we soon figured out why. Apparently the streets through here are closed on Sunday evening, and restaurants tables spill out across the sidewalks, and people end up walking up and down the middle of the streets. The photograph is deceptive — it shows perhaps the smallest number of people that I saw here, and most of the time the streets were packed.

Originally we “planned” (to the extent that we were operating on any kind of plan!) to just walk through here, but it was so lively that we slowed down, stopping for sidewalk gelato, and I made some photographs. The colors were intensified by the diminishing late-day light, and I held my camera above my head and shot blind to get this elevated point of view. Ideally, I think this image works best as a large print, since there are so many small details to look at that aren’t easily visible in this small web version.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

What’s With All the Street Photography? (Morning Musings for 8/26/14)

Posted on 26 August 2014 | Comment

Since many of you may be more familiar with my landscape photography, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few of you are wondering what has happened? Where did it go? What’s up with all the street photography? How does this all connect? Does it connect at all?

Urban Life, Manhattan

Urban Life, Manhattan

First, the landscape photography hasn’t disappeared and more of it will return here soon. In fact, some upcoming landscape photography projects should generate quite a bit of that sort of work once again before very long.

Second, let me share a bit more about the recent (and upcoming) focus on urban, street, and travel photography.

  • One reason is practical. During the first part of this summer, scheduling and other issues conspired in ways that I ended up spending much less time in wild places than usual. To some extent, I regret having been unable to make it to the Sierra in the past couple of months, but on the other hand my favorite Sierra season is just beginning and I’ll be there quite a bit very soon.
  • While I did not travel to those places, I did travel to other places with interesting urban subjects. Most notably I spent two weeks traveling to Chicago and New York City, and I was able to photograph a lot in the latter location for over a week. Yes, you can expect to see a lot more New York City photographs!
  • While I obviously have a deep and long-standing connection to the natural world, especially that of the western United States, I also love cities. While it is unlikely that I’ll never live in a place like Manhattan, such urban areas fascinate and energize me, and my instinct is to photograph them.
  • Photography is photography — it isn’t just landscape photography, or wildlife photography, or portraits, or street photography, or sports photography, and it certainly isn’t limited to certain locations or subjects. I see almost all subjects as potential photographs, and I see many of the same underlying elements and concepts and structures in a wide range of subjects. In my view, there is a clear connection between how I see natural landscape and urban landscapes, between nature photography and street photography, and much more.
  • Shooting (and viewing) photography outside of my personal photographic comfort zone helps me see and understand all photographic subjects more clearly and more intensely. I’m convinced that my landscape photography experience informs my street photography, and that shooting street can make me see the landscape in new and interesting ways.

Whether you agree or not, I hope that you’ll find something interesting in this “different” work that is likely to appear quite a bit over the next few weeks. And if not… autumn is coming, I’m heading into the field to shoot landscapes again very soon, and you can look forward to new work of the more familiar sort again before long!

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Big Wong Restaurant

Posted on 26 August 2014 | Comment

Big Wong Restaurant

Big Wong Restaurant

Big Wong Restaurant. New York City. August 10, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

New York City street scene, as people pass in front of the Big Wong Restaurant in Chinatown

To an outsider, there are many things that seem to characterize New York City — the noise, the energy, the density of people, the constant motion, the often gritty character of many areas, the unique neighborhoods that bump into one another, the huge number of people out walking, the food, and much more. I’m more familiar with the famous San Francisco Chinatown (which is at least as crowded), and New York’s Chinatown feels vaguely familiar but also quite different. It certainly seems, for the most part, a lot less geared to tourists.

We went there for dinner one evening. After a week of too many expensive dinners we were looking for something both good and less expensive, so we ended up at a place near here that one of our group knew about. After dinner we went out on the streets, where it was now close to twilight. We decided to wander up towards Little Italy, and on the way we quickly passed though more of Chinatown’s narrow streets, and I managed to slow up our progress by stopping to photograph people and storefronts, including this wonderfully named restaurant with a few people and piles of trash outside on the sidewalk.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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