Subway rail fans waiting at the station for the historic “nostalgia” train, Manhattan
A few days earlier we visited the Subway Museum in Brooklyn, where we had a chance to wander through a bunch of old to very old historic subway cars. I was fascinated by how old some of the rolling stock is, and by the history of the system that I had not known about. I was also a but surprised to realize that some of the trains currently still on the tracks have been there for a long time. A big draw at the museum is the fact that the old subway cars are parked in this old station and one can wander in and out of them.
With this visit fresh in our minds we decided to catch the historic “nostalgia trains” event that brings many of these trains out of the museum and runs them on the subway system for one day in December. Not surprisingly this draws out lots of fans of New York history and a lot of “train people.” (It also surprises a few folks who don’t know what is going on when these really old trains arrive at their stations!) I’m not sure what it is about train people, but the seem to stand out. These guys had apparently ridden the train partway up Manhattan, crossed to the adjacent platform, and were now waiting to the train to come back for their return trip.
Photographer Louis Mendes rides a historic New York subway car
The timing of our December 2015 visit to New York City coincided with a special event on the New York Subway system — a day when historic subway trains run along one Manhattan route. Our sons had told us about this before, and we all met up at the south end of the line to catch the first train. It is made up of a variety of cars — some from just before the vintage of the current trains and others from much further in the past. It is a big event, and by the time the second run began there were big crowds. (One fun thing was watching the looks of the faces of folks at stations who didn’t know about this… as ancient subway trains rolled in and stopped to take on passengers.)
As I walked through one of the cars there was a big group of photographers, many holding vintage film cameras, some rigged up to work with modern electronic flash units. This fellow immediately caught my eye, and for a bunch of reasons. Many years ago my father had a camera almost exactly like his, and I thought it was the coolest thing back then. I also was taken by the contrast between his rig, with his giant camera and multiple flash units, and what I use to photograph in circumstance these days… a very small mirrorless system that works so well in low light than I never use flash. And I was pretty sure I recognized him, and thought that I had read about him somewhere. It was too crowded and noisy to talk, but I later figured out that he is street photographer Louis Mendes, who is well-known for photographing with this eclectic equipment in Manhattan. (I later ran into him again in front of the B&H store, and I recently read an interview in which he said that is his “third favorite” location for photographing.)
Visitors to Griffith Observatory overlook Los Angeles twilight.
We were in Southern California over the Thanksgiving holiday, visiting our daughter and son-in-law. On the weekend we decided to head up to Los Angeles for various things, including a visit to the Frans Lanting show at the Annenberg Space for Photography. We finished up there, headed out for food (of course!) and then decided to head to Griffith Park.
We were apparently among approximately 350,000 people with the same idea! I’m not sure what a typical crowd looks like here, but this one was huge. We finally abandoned our rental car well below the observatory and found a shuttle bus that went up the hill. We arrived a bit before sunset and found that hordes were already there. But I can see why — it is a spectacular location. Although I was only carrying my “little camera,” I decided to see what I could come up with. Eventually I photographed the actual sunset, but first I turned the camera towards the people crowded onto the walkways around the observatory and standing in the beautiful light watching the evening develop.
A man walks into the sun on a San Francisco sidewalk
After more than a month filled with colorful photographs of autumn foliage in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, I’m going to cleanse my palate a bit… with a black and white street photograph. I know it seems odd and even inexplicable to some that someone who photographs the natural world and likes to spend time there would also be attracted to photographing the constructed world of urban streets — but I do. In some ways I think of this other universe as more of an extension of the same way of seeing that attracts me to natural landscapes. These are simply urban landscapes and they are populated by people rather than animals. The same light falls on the city and on the mountains. In addition, photographing street tunes up my visual sense, forcing me to quickly see and respond to compositions, light, and subjects.
On a couple of occasions this past summer I joined a small group of like-minded photographers to wander around parts of San Francisco making photographs at night. We generally assembled in the late afternoon, photographed first in the daylight late in the day, grabbed a bite to eat, and then headed back out into the evening to photograph street scenes under ambient and artificial light. Here I headed up a street into the late afternoon light, focusing initially on the backlit subjects and the lengthening shadows, and then this fellow walked into the scene.
Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell working the dawn light near a small lake in Long Valley
On about my third week of aspen photography this fall I was accompanied back to the Sierra by my wife and fellow photographer, Patricia Emerson Mitchell. There are all sorts of advantages for me when she comes along — motel (instead of tent or back of car), real food (instead of things heated over a camp stove), and more… ;-) By this point in the aspen season I was ready for something that wasn’t aspen, so on this morning we headed east rather than west into the Sierra, traveling out across Long Valley with a plan of going even further east toward the White Mountains near the town of Benton.
We started in near darkness and arrived at a familiar spot out in the Valley before the sun rose. We parked and headed out to our destination, arriving a few minutes before the light, at which point we went to work rapidly — the photographic opportunities evolve rapidly as the first light arrives. Here she sets up close to the shoreline of the lack, photographing across the water toward mountains to our north as the first light rakes across sagebrush and the nearby hills.
A group of people at a coffee shop counter at night
This is the first of a group of two more photographs I’ll post from a recent bit of street photography in San Francisco, done on a Friday evening when I joined a small group of other photographers to photograph mostly after dark in urban areas. This on perhaps indulges my inner Edward Hopper a bit — I’m often fascinated by business windows at night and the idea of looking in from the outside to see whatever world is inside.
The photograph was a quick “grab” as I walked past this coffee shop and noticed the group of four people at the window-facing counter, each doing something different and each apparently unaware of the others. (And, of course: these are the places we all sit when we stop in coffee shops alone, right?)
Although it is not particularly apparent in this photograph, one of the things I like about photographing at night is the way that the darkness, lit by multiple artificial light sources, becomes magical. You’ll never see shadows like those on the wall behind this couple in sunlight! This light, and the responses to the night of the people who are out and about, make the nighttime environment very different from the daytime world, and places that might be mundane in daylight can become special at night.
This must have been a quick and spontaneous photograph… because I don’t even remember making it, much less precisely where I was! I think I may have been along Grant Street somewhere below Chinatown and getting closer to Union Square. In all likelihood, I saw the two of them and quickly lifted the camera to make an exposure and kept walking. I love the expression on the woman’s face.