1.2 sec at f/3.5

No photography for quite a while. Life’s other duties called and call still. But perhaps I’ll have a few efforts to share.

This was taken from the fantail of the ferry while riding across with my other daughter, Laurie and her fiancé, Eric. Eric proposed to Laurie on the ferry. Not this night; one like this, a few months back. They’re going to be married on a boat sailing in the harbor. Very romantic!

Laurie, on seeing this shot on the camera’s LCD said “Weird…” Sigh. I try to accept such unvarnished filial candor with more aplomb than I did in years past. So yeah, she has a point.

I hadn’t been across the ferry in fifty years as near as I could recall, and I was oddly moved by it. This shot is divisible into quite a few sub-compositions which are successful in their own right. Is this the opposite of the classic photographer’s admonition to get closer? I find myself stepping back to take in more to make a close up of the whole. The pieces comprise the experience -  combined they tell a story, a riddle, like a kanji for eye and mind.

Making the shot

Look closely and you’ll see this photo is not sharp. Look more closely still and you’ll discover that the out-of-sharpness is mostly some residual jitter – motion – of the camera.

If I’d had my druthers everything would have been locked down solid, and at least some things – especially that foreground green deck – would be sharp. That’s what I wanted. But so often happens, this was just a whimsical ferry ride after dinner at a little place in the Village with my daughter; lugging much in the way of equipment or a tripod was not part of the equation. So the shot was handheld for over a second, braced against the ship’s railing, and I think the jitter is as much an artifact of the anti-shake mechanism being left on – or so I suspect – as it is of slippage. Regardless, that sharp foreground was not to be.

After maybe 5 seconds looking at the photo in front of me, I realized I just didn’t care. Truth be known, the little buzz in the visual is actually true to the scene – the shear mechanical power of the ferry pulsed through everything, a constant shimmering background energy. Tht buzz was there and the camera recorded it and we are on friendly terms now. 

Processing was straightforward: Adobe Camera Raw into Photoshop, then noise reduction, sharpening, and Topaz Adjust for contrast enhancement in the prop-wash area.


Adventures in Paradise

Originally uploaded by chris_rutkowski

Adventures in Paradise is something of a visual departure for me; especially for a “beach shot” during a storm. It is very high key – blown out highlights all over the place; barely a dark dark to be seen. But I processed the look in what felt like 60 seconds flat – luminosity, saturation, vibrance– zip, zip, zip. I just did it and knew right away the result was what I wanted; done. So I asked myself the next logical question: “Why?” and had no immediate answer.

Well, next day I was talking with my sister Carol who lives back east, describing the picture to her, going on about how much I love driving on the beach when she said “You remember Uncle Alex’s dune buggy, don’t you?”

My Uncle Alex owned a bait and tackle shop down on Long Beach Island (better known to most folks as a part of The Jersey Shore). I’d long ago recognized the coincidence that I’d spent a lot of time on Long Beach Island in New Jersey when I was a kid, and now spent a lot of time on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. But; “A dune buggy?”

“Sure, they used to let dune buggies on the beach when we were kids. Then that hurricane came along and destroyed all those houses and they built jetties and buggies weren’t allowed on the beach anymore. Don’t you remember?”

“Uh… No.”

“Maybe you were too little… Uncle Alex had this bright pink dune buggy called Adventures in Paradise. The name was on the side.”

Then I remembered.

I remember a flamingo-pink jeep-turned-dune buggy with its name in Floridian-sky-blue-script on both sides with rod holders and a half dozen 10 or 12 foot poles rigged up, ready to go. I remember spinners, jigs and spoons with feathery tails hanging from an overhead tackle-board, and the whir and crunch of gears from the buggy’s mechanicals as we wheeled down the beach. And I remember surfing my arms in the rushing-by wind pretending to fly like a seagull that paced us.

Adventures in Paradise. Yup.

Of course, a big piece of why I love this place fell into place somewhere along in here. There are some amazing similarities – or points of congruency – even visual similarities – between this place and what were perhaps the best experiences and times I had as a child. Say 1955-60; pre-Kennedy, pre Nam. Pre the shit-storm of every dimension that was headed the world’s way. This place is like a cultural preserve – they aren’t trying to be fifties, they are fifties.

Places like this will be extinct soon. Portland and Seattle population predicted to double by 2038 or something like that? What if? Somewhere along in there, little pockets of a simpler time like this will cease to exist, gone like cultural passenger pigeons.

Enjoy it while ya got it.

Holiday Beach Crowds

Originally uploaded by chris_rutkowski

The beach was elemental. That’s what I told Judy – it was elemental out there. Earth, water, fire and air, thrown in a blender, shaken and stirred. There is nothing like a storm in the face – a bit of the old Ride of the Valkries – to get me in touch with senses dulled by too much time in front of a computer. I am drawn to it. Always have been.

In complete truth I was not properly prepared for what I encountered. To cut to the chase about what technical issues came up, I offer the following:

1. Bring a sturdy tripod. No. A bigger one. Make sure it has a hook, and make sure you’ve got LOTS of weight you can pile under it and with cord, cinched down against the tripod’s hook to effectively preload the whole thing into a single mass. Make the whole thing sufficiently heavy and sturdy that you can push against it, hard, without knocking it over. I never did successfully manage camera movement and vibration, especially during the worst bits at the beginning. At best I “minimized” camera shake by draping my body around the tripod as a stabilizing mass; I certainly never eliminated it.

2. Keep the lens under cover until the moment of exposure. When there’s this much stuff blowing out there, a clean lens is problematic. I’m going to be doing some net research on this; within 15 minutes of starting the lens and filters were a mess and I didn’t really have a good way to manage it.

3. Bring waterproof covers for your gear. This at least I was able to do out on the beach. I’m glad I did!

Now, for the story:

Round one went to the elements. During the first set up of the outing I was so physically slammed I never got a shot. It reminded me of a favorite Kurt Vonnegut quote:

“I know what Delilah did to Make Sampson as weak as a kitten. She didn’t have to cut his hair. All she had to do was break his concentration.”

Concentration? Biff! Bam! Pow! I ended up back in the car muttering “Looks like I need a bigger boat.”

With each subsequent attempt I got a bit more focused, and aided by the gradually lessening severity of the conditions ended up with a couple of shots with potential. But it would be an exaggeration to say my technique had been nearly solid enough for that first outing. But what does not kill me strengthens me, etc.

Looking back, the shots started working when I stopped fighting the elements, and went with the flow – worked with it – rather than fought it. In Holiday Beach Crowds the defocused glow really became the subject of the shot rather than a problem to solve, and in one to come, Adventures in Paradise, I started picking up on ‘Beeee the motion blur…’. I will be revisiting these themes in the future.

Woman in Red

PS: As Tisdale put it, "got a nice sway about her" indeed!

And on that note: a big shout out to Annye: her incredibly creative shots of women (often in Paris) are like a breath of Spring air that make even an old coot like me feel young again, and I thought of her while posting this…. so how tickled am I that she stopped by to comment on this one? :-) Her work strips away external reality to reveal the heart within.

About the Photo: Each maker of digital cameras goes through a lengthy and complex design process producing the image sensor and the software that converts image signals into picture files that can be shown on a screen and/or recorded on a memory card. One consequence of this complexity is that the images produced by a particular maker’s cameras are usually distinctly and qualitatively different from those produced by other makers, and even from other models by the same maker. To me, these differences are as distinct as say, the difference between Kodachrome and Ektachrome color slide films; same subject, same day, same light, even the same camera (with film): different result.

I made this shot with my Sony R1. The R1 was insanely slow to focus, the shutter-lag awful, the between-shot recycle time abysmal, noise above ISO 400 was unacceptable, and it had no anti-shake. Taken together, those lacks caused more than one lost shot, so I migrated to a DSLR – a Nikon D300 – and all those shortcomings were instantly gone.

But the R1’s image quality… gosh, I loved the image quality of the R1; colors tended to be rich and “velvety” (please forgive the lame and non-quantitative description :-), and the R1’s built-in Zeiss lens was first rate. It shows in this shot, Votre gite and the few other R1 shots I’ve posted on Flickr. But Woman in Red illustrates something else I loved about the R1; the shot was made with the camera at waist-level.

Like many of today’s DSLRs, the R1’s viewfinder could be tilted, swiveled and yawed at various angles, but unlike any DSLR I know of, the viewfinder could be folded down flat on top of the camera – image side up, and conveniently left that way. This allowed – perhaps even encouraged – the R1 to be used like an old 2-1/4 by 2-1/4 TLR – with a waist level viewfinder. This “waist-level” view was common long ago; eye-level shots are far more common these days.

Personally I find looking at a waist-level finder (or view camera’s ground glass, or any live-view screen for that matter) very different from looking through a DSLR. With the former I am looking at a “picture” – an image; with a DSLR I am looking through the camera at the scene. To me, DSLRs provide a more direct engagement with the subject while image-based viewfinders encourage more direct engagement with the picture.

I’m sure some folks will think I’m just splitting hairs; or may experience the opposite, who knows? But it occurs to me that if your DSLR offers live-view mode, and you don’t use it often, checking this out for yourself might at the very least be a worthwhile comfort-zone shake-up exercise to spur the creative juices.

Sablet Sunset

Sablet Sunset

Originally uploaded by chris_rutkowski

Sunset over the Rhone Valley as seen from our gite (vacation cottage) overlooking the village of Sablet. Fog spread across the valley, spilling higher into the foothills where we were staying.

The exposure was made 3 years ago during a trip to the South of France. The processing was done today.

What is Art?

NOTE: The photos in this post were taken by my son, Weston, for a photography class as a college freshman back in 2001. The text of this post originated as an e-mail I sent Wes in 2001 after reviewing these and other photos he’d made. He wondered if my favorable comments were just because I was his dad. This is what I told him:

My comments are heartfelt – I’ve been a lover of photography for most of my life, and actively studied it as a process and as an art. You probably know that I had books about and/or by just about all the major photographers. Of course you know I favored the work of Adams and Weston – but there were many, many others: Stieglitz, Lange, Strand, Cartier-Bresson, Uelsmann, to name a few. But favoring one or the other is a testimony to taste rather than a judgment regarding craft. The works of the great artists share something(s) in common – indeed the work of all artists in all mediums share these same things.studyinmotionI

For me it works like this: some art, when first viewed (or heard, tasted, etc.) immediately grabs me at an emotional level; It grabs me by the… heart. It is not an intellectual thing. It is not computed. It is not decided. It is experienced, immediately and with no artifice.

However, not everything that bypasses the filters of intellect is art.

We humans, all of us, whether Mother Teresa or Osama Bin Laden, have built into us certain sensibilities, certain standards, certain reservations, taboos, societal limits. When something violates those standards we react at a gut level. As a philosopher once put it: to a cannibal, not eating a missionary is a sin. Thus, to create a gut reaction in a group, all one must do is present something that violates the standards of that group, and you can be assured of a gut reaction. But is it art? That all depends.

Take a subject such as "eating babies." Whether presented with the highest level of craft and technique, or with the crudest and most simplistic of displays, most people and most cultures (with the possible exception of our aforementioned cannibal) would find the topic itself shocking. You probably felt a bit of a jolt when you read it. Virtually any presentation would evoke a gut reaction. So is it art? That all depends.

If its purpose is to shock for the sake of shock then I would argue that if it is art at all, it is of the most banal sort. If its purpose is to expose a part of ourselves – then perhaps it is art.Still_Life

Consider a photograph of a jet flying into the World Trade Center. Does it evoke a reaction? You bet. Is it art? Well, some photographs of the event are "better than" others. Does that make them art? They stand as records, captured memories, moments frozen in time. They may make one wince, fight, or rejoice depending on who one is and where one stands in the universe. Is it art? I think not. And here’s why.

It is my belief that art reveals the unseen, the unsuspected, the unknown. Art illuminates the dark region just below the calm (or turbid) surface of reality and takes us where we’ve never been. The images and feelings associated with the World Trade Center attack are not hidden or unknown. Depictions of the event reinforce that which is already known. A photograph of such an event illuminates nothing. To_Arnold_with_love

Consider by distinction the photo by Dorothea Lang, taken in the early thirties, depicting a dustbowl family (mother and children) displaced, poor, and hungry. The feelings it instills are deep. Yet that moment could be any family, anywhere, any time. It reveals with startling clarity something about all of us; this is what it means to be human. It is great art. Art transcends the event or place which it depicts.

OK. So which of your photos are my favorites? I agree with your prof. The image of the hallway is stunning. So is that of the woman in the graveyard. Both are very worthy. Both grab me at an emotional level. I would be very proud indeed to have taken either shot. One other, the woman in light and dark is almost there. I recommend further examination of the cropping (I many be wrong here, but that is my reaction).

Here’s a question to ponder: how many photographs did, say, Ansel Adams take in his life. Thousands? Tens of Thousands? And out of them, how many are memorable images; images that still make people gasp, and will continue to make people gasp, say, a hundred years from now? Hundreds? Dozens? The point being: even in the hands of a great artist, not every attempt will succeed, but without the attempt there can be no success.

Trailhead on beach

Trail head on beach

Originally uploaded by chris_rutkowski

I like this and the others in the set enough that I’ve posted this as a solo item.

I can but marvel at how many of my personal favorite photographs were taken within a couple of hundred yards of this spot. It is varied and beautiful and it seems as though I’ve created a bit of project for myself; to tell the tale of this place in pictures and it would also seem, a few words.

This raises questions about how one actually goes about doing such a project. Clearly, something about this area is very compelling to me. I’m making pictures which I at least enjoy, and so it would seem at least a few others. So each post in the blog is like a page – or part of a page – in an unstructured book. Being a structure kind of guy, I’m sure a pattern will emerge that makes sense. Perhaps geaographic, by sections and regions. But I’ll confess that I find that old things – simple things – like that trail marker and footprints in the sand somehow connect me to the endless flow of life.

In this particular shot, what I wish I had was about 20 different people – actors, models, men, women, and kids… Just coming and going, walking and pointing and looking and photographing… certiainly didn’t have it this day, but some day…

So at some point I’ll figure out what the sections are – ocean and bay and town and cars is good…. It’s interesting how important cars are out here on the Peninsula. From day to day living to the show-car hot-rods “Rod Run to the End of the World” that fills the roads with automotive heirlooms on steroids one weekend every summer, and to that amazing public-street beach out there, automobiles are a part of the landscape here, but it seems in a personal way, as contrasted with the bumper to bumper madness that we survive in urban culture. The ocean and the bay – it’s all about how the ocean and the bay mold land and people, each in their own way.

Ah well, enough thinking for tonight. Thanks for reading. :-)