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 small brick-paved urban square in dappled sunlight
I have my reasons for photographing in urban environments, even though that might seem like an odd passion for someone who photographs nature and landscapes. The same attractions of form and light and texture and juxtaposition are found in both places, though the urban environment encourages me to photograph in a different way. Here I don’t use a tripod, and I often make photographs very quickly and instinctively, since the subjects are so transitory and it is a matter of photograph it now or never. Even a seemingly static and quiet scene like this one only lasts a moment before people again walk through the scene. If nothing else, it is an intense exercise in seeing.
The area of where I made this photograph is, despite the appearance, a very busy and noise place along San Francisco’s Market Street, a place where there are throngs of people and where traffic noise can be oppressive. Yet at times the crowds part and the scene can be almost empty. And there is often quite beautiful light — it comes from all angles as it reflects back and forth among the glassy surfaces of tall buildings, and at street level in some places the light can fill the scene from almost all possible directions.
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.
Urban landscape and an inflatable object, San Francisco
I recently read an interview with one artist whose work is on exhibit at SFMOMA, and he commented that despite what people may read into the work, it is largely all about the composition and juxtaposition of elements. If you want to read something into this, you are welcome to do so — and, in fact, there might be something there that I have not described or which I don’t see or admit to seeing.
But composition and juxtaposition did interest me. The rounded object at lower right doesn’t really fit the rest of the surrounding environment, or does it? That’s all I’m going to say…
The Flag Makers building behind a couple sitting on a bench at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Today (Saturday, May 14, 2016, as I write this) marks the re-opening of the newly renovated and expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA. As members we got an early look about a week ago, and we spent the better part of a day exploring the place. We like it! A lot. There are quite a few things I could write about — the architecture, the expanded space inside, the collections, the photographs — but all I’ll write for now is that I agree with one architecture critic who pointed out that where the old museum felt walled off from San Francisco the new version connects directly with the surrounding neighborhood, with many windows and open balconies providing plenty of opportunities to see and interact the urban San Francisco landscape. You could have a bit of fun thinking carefully about all of the lines and angles in this scene and what might explain them…
These photographs of SFMOMA are also some of the first I’ve made using a new camera from Fujifilm, the X-Pro2, about which I’ll likely have a lot more to say in the future. It is a rangefinder-style interchangeable lens mirrorless body with a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system that mostly succeeds in providing a sort of best of both worlds design. I like it for this kind of photography because the camera not only produced excellent image quality (with its 24MP sensor and fine Fujifilm lenses), but it is also small and fairly unobtrusive.
People and their reflections on a walkway at SFMOMA
In my continuing effort to make my landscape photograph fans uncomfortable — just kidding! — here is another urban/street photograph from a recent day in San Francisco. As members of SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) we got tickets for the members’ pre-opening this week. (The museum officially reopens on May 14, following two years of a major renovation and expansion project.) To answer the obvious first question… the new building is beautiful in almost all ways. (It isn’t perfect, but what is.) We greatly enjoyed our visit, during which we managed to spend time in mostly the new areas, but also revisited a lot of the older structure as well.
I love museums, especially art museums, and I can spend hours in them, looking and thinking and making mental associations. But I also like photographing them — for the interesting architectural features which often produce a lot of very interesting light and geometry, but also as places to watch people. But I often have to be very quick, and that was the case here. I first saw this fellow in the red pants walking my direction, against a background of mostly colorless architecture and flat light. I had just time to make two very quick exposures. Initially I wasn’t hopeful about this one, as I felt that I had almost missed him as he walked out of the frame — but in the end that positioning ended up seeming to be the most interesting to me.