Recently I have been revisiting some urban photography from nearly a year ago, when we spent time in Chicago and then in New York City. Expect a few more of these photographs over the next few days, a number of which may focus on small details of the urban landscape.
I have had this little photograph open in my image editing program for some time now, waiting to post it online. It is a simple photograph, but I connect it to several things that have some meaning to me. The scene is in the tiny yard at the home of relatives in Heidelberg, Germany, whose hospitality we enjoyed over a two-week period a couple of summers ago. On this evening we had gone outside, if I recall correctly, to eat and have some wine when I noticed this diagonal beam of light passing over the surface of the white wall and forming a shadow. As someone once wrote, “There is always something to see,” and photographs are potentially anywhere.
Worn and frequently painted front walls of urban San Francisco buildings
I have a few more in this urban/street photography set from a recent day spent photographing in San Francisco. I took the train to The City, headed north along the waterfront, then cut inland at Market Street before wandering up past Chinatown (avoiding Grant) and through North Beach before heading back to where I started. There is a lot to see on such a walk on a weekday in San Francisco!
Usually when I pass through the Chinatown area I forego the walk up touristy Grant Street, and instead cut across (and uphill!) to take smaller streets and to miss a lot of the usual stuff. There are lots of little nooks and crannies here, and the buildings offer diverse and sometimes wild visual treats. These buildings, which certainly look run down from the outside, present an incredible surface of textures and colors, much of which probably evolved by accident as people painted out the ubiquitous graffiti.
In some ways there is not much to say about this photograph and in some ways there should be much to say about it. But that’s never stopped me before… While I could say more about the subject and the circumstances of the photograph, I don’t think it is that important to do so. I’ll limit myself to saying that I made the photograph while walking through part of San Francisco and that it lies somewhere between being a “quick snap” (which it isn’t) and an image I completely understood at the moment I made it (it isn’t quite that either).
I’ve recently read some (occasionally odd) online discussions of minimalism in photography — what it is and what it isn’t. My ideas about minimalism are only partially based on visual concepts of the “ism,” and more based on my experience with musical minimalism, which I’ve known about for quite a long time. In a sense there are two threads that may ultimately arrive at a similar place. One simply tries to create an image (or other sound/visual object) from as little content as possible. Another may include denser content but rather the representing real things in an objective way it presents patterns or processes to the viewer/listener. (Composer Steve Reich’s concept comes to mind: “Music as a gradual process.”) In both cases I think the object encourages the viewer listener to look past the (often minimal) surface content of the work and into the material and structure of the thing. How it works might be more important than what it is.
Detail of the Tower Bridge, London and the River Thames
Earlier today we were talking about how it has been too long since we’ve been across the Atlantic — our last trip was back in the summer of 2013. We started in London, spending nearly a full week there, enough time to feel like we were beginning to get past the most obvious things — but not nearly enough time exhaust the possibilities of the place. Making that trip extra special, we managed to meet up with a bunch of family members there, and then continue more or less together as we continued on to Germany for about a another two weeks.
As I like to do in American cities, we wandered a fair amount while we were in London. While I know that planning is very useful when going to a new place and having limited time, I know that I also like to just follow my nose a bit and get out and walk around and see where I end up — in some ways I feel that this may eventually give me a better sense of a place. Not that this location is exactly off the beaten track! In fact, this photograph shows details of one of the best known iconic bridges, with bits of the River Thames visible in the background.
Curving window reflects the courtyard of the Getty Center
This curving wall of tinted windows is a favorite subject of mine at the Getty — I have photographed it several times, in fog and rain, with people in front of it, with people behind, and the structure alone. People often move across the courtyard area in front of it on their way to other places, so I can catch people in motion against this background. In fact, one other series from this visit includes a child jumping and hopping his way across. Frequently people will appear momentarily between the columns leading into the distance at the right, too.
This was a very clear day, so the light is crisp and the reflections are very visible in the curving glass. The color of the glass almost reminds me of the water of a swimming pool, and I wonder if the architects thought about this when they designed this aquarium-like rounded building with its many windows.
This photograph includes a section of the structures facing the central courtyard at the Los Angeles Getty Center, high on a hill above the Los Angeles area. We visited on a sunny day, that the stark light illuminated the geometrical architecture forms — at upper right are curved surfaces lit by direct sun, and to the left are shadowed areas that are lit by the reflections.
The architecture here seems quite complex to me, with the smaller details of square window panes and stone and metal creating the outside surfaces, and the larger forms angling together in all kinds of interesting ways. The lone figure, a Getty security guard taking a break, was the first thing to catch my attention here, but in the end I think that the buildings themselves are the central subject.