I have always been intrigued by and occasionally obsessed with patterns and juxtapositions and form. When I go back and look at my earliest photography from when I was in middle school or high school I can now see that even then I wasn’t just looking at things for what they “are,” but for the other things that they might also be — the aspects of them that are not immediately visible. This is simple (or so it seems) study of some lines and curves and perspective lines, made quickly while walking along the Embarcadero on San Francisco’s waterfront one morning.
Recently the discussion about realism and honesty and manipulation in photographs has crescendoed a bit, as it does from time to time. On one side are those who think that anything goes — not exactly my point of view, though I might be more “permissive” that you would expect. On the other side are members the “no manipulation” faction, who want to apply the supposed standards of photojournalism to all photographs — their job is to show truth and be completely objective and no “manipulation” is permitted. The problem with the extremes of the first position are obvious. The problems with the extremes of the second deserve a lot more thoughtful scrutiny then they have generally been receiving. All photographs lie, even those that tell truths. Some might imagine that a photograph like this one represents an objective truth, a straightforward (and straight photography) look at the true nature of a thing. But if you saw this subject, you would not likely see anything like this, and my choices (to make it black and white, to use a particular lens, to render the image in black and white, to look at this particular subset of the whole, and much more) are entirely subjective. In the end, this is still truth — but it is my very subjective truth about this subject and it most certainly is not an objective “record” of a thing.
I have a series of photographs, a series that contains only a few images, that I call “imaginary landscapes” — photographs that do not attempt to be objectively real depictions (not that photographs can truly succeed at such a thing) but instead go for what I might term a subjective reality. This photograph is perhaps the urban equivalent to those. An “urban imaginary landscape” perhaps?
The source image came from a recent visit to San Francisco, when I was in a location where I could look directly toward the outer shells of a number of very tall buildings. Because the weather was overcast, the light was muted and it made its way into shadowed areas that might otherwise be very dark. This produced a source image that allowed me a great deal of leeway for interpretation in post.
Reflections and shaded interior beyond a barred window, San Francisco
Walking along the waterfront near the South Beach Harbor I noticed a walkway going out to the end of a pier than I had not noticed before. This time a gate was open, so I walked out onto the pier and passed many small temporary (or so they seemed) businesses and shops that were set up behind the sliding metal doors, now open for the day. My goal was the end of the pier, where I figured I might be a good, clear view straight into the morning light coming across the bay or possibly back across the boats tied up in the harbor.
Passing one small metal-sided building, I noticed the odd combination of objects — a bird cage behind a sort of “human cage” of the barred windows. The right window provided a visual and subjective contrast with these objects, since it reflected the open blue sky and the upper portions of the masts of the nearby sailboats.
A complex juxtaposition of street elements, San Francisco
I’m going to have a little fun with you today with this photograph. It might be a bit of a mystery and it contains one or more illusions, and more than one world. I’ll let you ponder that.
I made the photograph on one of my photography walks in San Francisco, which usually are dominated by street photography, some architecture, and even a bit of urban and near-urban landscape, all shot handheld while on the move. The area where I made this photograph is a bustling part of newly developing San Francisco, with lots of traffic (I waited for a break), lots of expensive new housing, and sometimes a lot of people.
Benches and a balcony, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
There is a small thread in my photograph of the interior spaces of buildings that looks through gauzy, diffused curtains, blinds, and scrims toward the world outside. For example, I have several in his line that I made at the Getty Museum in Southern California, and some things photographed in museums in New York that go in a similar direction. I made this photograph at the new SFMOMA museum in San Francisco during a members’ preview before the official opening last week.
I love the newly expanded and remodeled museum. One writer commented on the way that the new facility opens to the City. (The former building, as good as it was, was mostly closed off from San Francisco, with few places where the interior space opened to views of the surrounding area.) Now the new “back side” of the museum opens straight out over and into the urban environment, and there is quite a bit to see there — and the design creates a stronger link to this city. In this photograph, which was initially “about” the lines of the buildings in the upper part of the frame, the shapes and tones of the two foreground benches are beginning to interest me more.
Finally. A photograph that is not Death Valley. Don’t worry, there are still more Death Valley photographs, and this one did come from the same trip. On our return from Death Valley we swung through the LA Basin to visit our daughter and son-in-law, replacing natural pleasures with the distinctly urban experiences of Los Angeles. On April 1 we went to Venice Beach to visit the G2 Gallery, where photographer friends exhibit from time to time. (We enjoyed the gallery quite a bit — some lovely photographs by Clyde Butcher and Jack Dykinga were featured that week.)
Out of the gallery and on the street I had an opportunity to play with a new camera, my Fujifilm X-Pro2, which had arrived shortly before we left for Death Valley. The street being the perfect place for such a camera, I pulled it out and made a few photographs. Initially I expected that this would be a color photograph, but as I worked on it in post I began to feel that it had potential in black and white.
This is either really interesting (somewhat interesting?) or a really great illustration of what can make photographers so annoying! With a camera in my hand, I start to see differently, and things that would otherwise often escape my notice start to catch my attention and intrigue me, and they sometimes become photographs. At almost any time the visual impulse may kick in and I’ll see something that demands to be photographed. This was one of those times.
We were visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Southern California, after our landscape and nature photography trek to Death Valley. Enjoying a few lazy days after working the desert, we were sitting around at their home doing nothing in particular that I can remember — when I noticed that the colors of objects behind this door and outside were being reflected and refracted in such a way that the etched surface of the glass was producing intense colors. The glass actually has no color — everything seen here is either the color of something behind the glass or a refraction of some sort.