Friday, December 30, 2016

Veritography: An elaboration of the 2016 Moments

Picture 1: Zig and Zag

Boy, that was a cold day. The trail near my house follows a meandering creek, criss-crossed with bridges. Each bridge offers a different view of the moving water and occasionally a scene that merits a picture. On this cold January day, I liked the interesting pattern of dark unfrozen water moving between snowed over ice patches. I also have an affinity for the piece of blue plastic caught up in the brambles in the middle-right of frame. I gave my mom a framed version of this for Christmas this year and she loves it.

Picture 2: Untitled

With a lot of the 15-16 winter being unseasonably warm (only five inches of snow in KC, bah!), it meant that there were opportunities to get outside. This photo of my nephew in the swing comes from a day when we wanted to go to the St. Louis Zoo, but it was a MADHOUSE on this particular not-wintery January day, so we settled for a park nearby. He was too young to properly fit into the swing (even the one for kids), so he just hung out in front and lightly rocked back and forth. This also represents the expression that lots of kids have in photographs: a sort of uncomprehending interest, void of either excitement or distress.

Pictures 3 and 4: Diagonals at the Nelson, I and II

These two pictures go together in a way that I certainly didn’t intend on the day. Only after they’d been sitting in my collection for most of a year did I see a commonality. Putting together this favorites list, it struck me from looking at the small thumbnails that there was a shared collection of strong diagonal lines leading to the unseen vanishing point in both images. It’s subtle, but it’s not NOT there. These two are the most non-temporal of the photos in my “Moments” (in that there’s nothing particular about the time they were shot or the contents of the frame), but I still like them and feel they belong.

Picture 5: Mockingbird

It’s a mockingbird. One of the first pictures taken with my then-new zoom lens, I was very pleased with how it turned out. Also mockingbirds have yellow eyes, which I did not know before I took this. Sitting in one spot while waiting for birds to get used to my presence and start behaving normally is a good exercise in patience for me.

Picture 6: Untitled (Jennifer playing vibraphone)

At the performer's request I photographed this concert seeking shots for her website. I took several that she liked, but this was the one that I carried in my head through the year. She’s alert and prepared (which is typical for how she approaches music) and she is connected to the group out away from her instrument, not buried in her own technique. Makes for a good photograph of a musician.

The monochrome treatment undersells the colorful flowers from her dress, but I liked it because it preserved the stark contrast between the soft lightness of her skin and the shadow of her hair and glasses.

Picture 7: Dance

The moment is the frozen heel kick and artful placement of the arms. The viewer knows that the other leg is going to come down on the wood pedestal with a THUMP in time with the music. The sweep of dress waterfalls over the side and down to the floor, expanding through much of the room. Picture thirty or so people sitting on this expanding dress, drinking champagne and eating hors d'oeuvres. The off-white tones of the dress suggest a porcelain doll, though one exempt from the rigidity of hard and fast porcelain.

Picture 8: Flow

Let me confess to you all that I have a weakness for color isolation. This picure, Flow, didn’t start with the idea of isolating the skirt in black and white. As is often the case, the “look” evolves over the course of after-shot work in my development.

Here, the audience dominates the frame numerically, but the interesting ingredient is the dress, as well as Coleen (face turned away) floating waist-deep in a ocean of red waves. The concept for this art piece, like the previous picture, Dance, was a dress upon which one could have a picnic. The red dress dominated the scene, but the lighting in the room was amber-colored, which made the original frame seem monotone, muting the impact of the dress. To reorient our attention to the dress, I stripped the color from the rest of the scene, making the people (including the performer herself) less important.

The near-right woman’s cell phone is the only color that isn’t the deep crimson of the dress. Because the screen she was using had a blue-shifted hue, the dress on the screen is magenta. I left it colored differently from the “only color” as a color-temperature joke.

Picture 9: Untitled (congregation by candlelight)

Photography can often feel transgressive, even when all that’s being impinged upon is a collective small-scale aversion to having moments captured. While the soloist was singing down below out of frame, the candlelight-illuminated assembly looks on.

I’m drawn to the image as a depiction of the light of faith, both in the literal and intangible senses. Each person illuminated by their own flame, each there for their own reasons. No doubt many are there for the ritual and the spiritual dimension, but some may be there out of obligation, fear, apathy, love, or a sense of belonging and community. I find it a very meaningful scene, despite being someone who does not belong in any religious community.

Picture 10: Judges

This scene of father and son looking serious while listening to bands lasted only a moment. As such, the quality of the picture is stretched to the limit, since it was the only frame I grabbed. It’s at the long end of a lens that isn’t a zoom, and the audience was in near-darkness (as far as a camera is concerned). But the serious expressions of both faces was too much to pass up, so even though it isn’t my best photograph, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

Picture 11: Solo - Emily McGinnis (warm-up)

While Emily was busy running her fingers through her upcoming solo performance, I came up and set up my shot. She glanced over her shoulder, saw that I was intending to take her picture, and let out a dismissive laugh (or what I interpreted that way). Turning back to her practice, this photo is of the remainder of her indulgent -- or exasperated? -- smile.

It sometimes feels intrusive to be a photographer. I struggle that moments without photographers hanging around ARE more natural and more comfortable. But I’m entranced by the straightforward beauty that comes from people doing everyday actions. In this shot, I focus on the cascade of her hair, the energy in her hand, the kindness in her face, and the dark elastic band around her wrist.

Picture 12: Lobby Lee 4

One of the few times that I stumbled onto a scene and said out loud, “Well, now I have to take a picture of that.” Before his solo, Lee was striding around the lobby, walking in and out of very photogenic settings, with the shiny floor and two-story windows. The result is a picture that I don’t think I could have bettered if I’d spent a month scouting locations, taking demo shots, and posing subjects.

Picture 13: Untitled (Griffin at the Garden)

Spring in St. Louis at the Botanical Garden. This is a picture of my nephew around his first birthday. At this point he still didn’t get to touch grass very often, so every time you put him down, you could count on him making a thoughtful expression.

Picture 14: Fount of Zen

From the same trip to the Garden. A fountain that I’ve been fascinated with my entire life. When I was young, I was fascinated with where the water could *possibly* come from. Now, I gaze into the pool and find a calming ripple.
Picture 15: Languishing in Lightspeed

One of my first attempts of capturing motion from musicians. Sound obviously doesn’t translate well to still photographs, but motion helps convey the music. Of course motion isn’t easy to show in a “still” photograph, either.

This frame is ten seconds of cello playing. Anything still becomes clearer (such as the feet). The moving parts accumulate light slowly when they pass through the same location. There’s a nice contrast between the left cello’s stillness (playing the less-active accompaniment) and the busier “cloud” of the player on the right with the melody.

Picture 16: The Last Supper

The Fountain City Brass Band (of which I am a member) asked me to take the photo to be used for our 2016 CD program. While setting up the shot, I took this photo of everyone (minus me) doing their own thing while waiting for me to hurry up. Even though it wasn’t one of the “good” pictures of everyone looking at the camera, it was chosen as the photo for the CD.

I love that no individual is looking at the camera. It’s an exemplar of one kind of photography I love: people busy doing other things. I love that each individual is doing their own thing: talking, waiting, laughing, adjusting posture, each looking their own way. I gave it the “The Last Supper” title because it reminds me of the famous painting of DaVinci’s that has the apostles all busy doing their own thing, while Jesus (or our music director) is in the middle, a component but apart.

When the CD designer asked me I “knew any reason why we couldn’t use this picture,” I understood that was a question in the technical sense (“can we use this informal picture?”) and a personal question (“can we use this photo -- which you, Andy, happen not to be in -- to represent the group?”).

The picture also sets off an puzzle in my head: do I like an informal and distracted picture because it’s a better photo, or do I think it’s a better photo because it’s informal and distracted?

Picture 17: Lambert Lanterns

A photo which breaks a few guidelines. The subject is looking out of the short side of the frame (that is, the side closest to him), which is usually to be avoided because we follow a human’s gaze and shorter gazes make us frustrated. It turns a “wow, he’s looking off into the middle distance” into “I wonder what he’s looking at that’s juuuuust out of frame.”

I cut off one of his limbs at the joint -- also a no-no, because it looks weird and frustrates the viewer into wondering what’s out of frame. There’s also more light on his nose than his eyes, which is generally to be minimized because it emphasizes the nose and masks the expression.
With all that said, I think it’s a beautiful photo. The colors are interesting (the blue dots come from cell phone flashes being used to help them try to record video), the space is interesting (the lanterns form a line that draws the eye towards the subject), and the stark lighting adds lots of shape to his face and suitcoat (and by “stark lighting” I mean “terrible lighting”).

Picture 18: Vetrata da chiesa

One of those “I have this idea in my head for a shot and if I can even come close to that when I’m done, I’ll be really happy” photos. I’m really happy with it.

Picture 19: Untitled (young twirling lady)

While the ensemble was posing for a photograph that included her parent, this young lady was busy swishing her dress back and forth and twirling around, restless but not being excessive. She was so unconcerned and unselfconscious that it felt like an imperative that I get this photo, like I would somehow be a lesser person if I didn’t manage to encompass so perfect a moment.

With hand on hip and enough self-confidence and attitude, I couldn’t help but include it. One of the few photos from this year that I’ve already printed and framed for my personal gallery.

Picture 20: Untitled (from Emily and Derek’s engagement)

My favorite thing about this photo is having people double-take while looking at it. “Wait, how are their feet behind the…?” Plenty of space for text, which I was proud of thinking ahead to include (I still rarely remember to consider that).

Picture 21: Tiptoe

Poor G. He could see the cupcake sitting on the plate, but he didn’t have enough height to see that if he grabbed only the plate, the cupcake would roll off. He ended up with an empty plate and a wider appreciation for physics.

Picture 22: Untitled (from L.’s birthday party)

This photo taught me a valuable lesson. I thought for sure it would be one of L.’s mother’s favorites from the day of her late-summer birthday party, so I had put extra care into it, making sure I was extremely happy with it. When reviewing pictures for a memory book, this one got a “no” as we were working through the list.

Just because I like something doesn’t mean everyone is going to like it, and photos have different purposes (she looks more like a soulful model in an ad for “Come visit Nebraska” than a girl at her own birthday, I’ll admit).  

Picture 23: Estes Portrait: Maddy

Maddy and I met on the brass band trip to Colorado this year, when we sat at a table and talked for a couple of hours about music, photography, philosophy, and how damn beautiful it was in the mountains. Later that evening, when the setting sun was coming in the bus side door beautifully, I asked her if I could take her picture. She paused, during which time I worried I offended her, and ultimately agreed.

The result is this portrait, which I was so excited about when I saw how it turned out that I wanted to leave the beautiful mountains behind that very moment and get back to flat boring Kansas to develop it. [Note: I leave all my computers and editing equipment at home when I travel to have a separation between time of shot and time of close examination.]

I love that her expression is pretty close to neutral, but there’s still this vitality there, almost as though the picture itself will break into a smile when I’m not looking.

Picture 24: Estes Portrait: TJ

There’s a lot of time spent waiting when we play in Colorado. In full uniform, but waiting. For other groups to go, for the weather to change, for the time to pass until we play. TJ was warming up in one of those interminable times and I took this picture.

This picture makes the list because you get a lot out of this portrait, even considering that you can’t see a large part of his face. You also get an idea what he has to look past just to see straight in front of him. A bell blocking the right side of his vision, and a book of music partially blocking his left side.

Also, even though Maddy played horn, TJ plays horn, and there’s one more horn player coming up, that’s just a coincidence. This year, it happens to be people with horns in hand.

Picture 25: Day is Done

This picture is a tiny cheat. To improve the aesthetics, I made the windows align to a vertical grid. In reality, since I was standing off to the side of the people-mover (and the center of the window), the windows were not rectangular but oddly misshapen. It’s a good example of how much digital editing goes into photos, and also how little difference it makes in some cases. The real version isn’t better, because the lens exaggerates the shapes that our brain automatically corrects perspective for in the moment; we know the windows are rectangles, so ultimately I feel this is a truer representation, even though I have to edit it to get there.
Picture 26: Soloist (near)

This concert had horns spread all through a park built on the roof of a parking garage in downtown KC. The weather was a little warm, but a nice breeze conspired to make pages flip and stands fall over.

The picture is a type of photo that I call a “hero shot,” which is usually a picture of someone doing something in a way that is worthy of being a flash card of how to do that thing. Here, the soloist has music that’s threatening to escape, but a calm face, a controlled posture, and a classy bearing that belie that she’s downtown on a roof.

Picture 27: Misty dawn, with moon.

I woke up this particular morning with more-than-usual colors hitting my blinds. Stumbling out of bed, I looked out the window and said out loud, “I need to get that.” So I ran around with no shirt on, trying to find my camera and tripod. A beautiful misty morning with a tiny crescent moon, ultimately captured from my balcony. And no shirt on in late October.  

Picture 28: Untitled (Dr. Benjamin on the balcony)

I know that Keith does not care to have his picture taken. We’ve discussed it before, and he described it at one point as “like a kind of stage fright.” He has a fantastic character that burns out from him, but I respect him, so I respect his preference and never take his picture.

I was surprised when he asked me to take pictures of his recital. Granted, he called the request down from the balcony when I walked in right before it started, so it’s possible his request started as a cough that got WAY out of hand.

I find this image of him standing at the balcony looking down at the chatty audience during intermission to be very powerful.

Picture 29: Untitled (part of shoot for Bridget Clonts)

This image was part of the set I delivered to Bridget, but not part of the set she shared online. Perhaps that means that there was something about this photo that she found less than first rate, but it was always my favorite from our session. She has such fantastic eyes, but I worried that they’d be too dark to really appreciate in the final product.

Turns out I needn’t have been concerned. Long after the day was finished, I was still thinking about the photo and how noble her attitude and how commanding her gaze. It’s also an example of “short lighting,” when the main light source falls on the side of the face that’s turned away from the camera (opposite: broad lighting, with the main light hitting the side turned towards camera).

Picture 30: Untitled (leap out of frame)

The idea was that my brother could put his son down on the path, jump out of the way, and Griffin would run down the path towards his mom and my camera. As always, he’s not interested in plans, so he would run three steps, then try to step on a the last remaining flower in the side bed (who could blame him, just sitting there all purple and flowery).

But I really enjoy the sight of my brother with feet off the ground, smile on his face, escaping the frame by not stepping on any of the flowers.

Picture 31: Ingredient: Surprise

This one is a tiny cheat, since I’m not the one who took the photo. But I did do the developing, it was my camera equipment, and it *is* one of my favorite moments of the year.

This photo was taken by Amy Gilbert, and it’s Amy’s daughter Alana with me in the photo. We’d had several photos with a variety of silly faces, alternating with “serious” smiles that look a little strained and occasional proto-teenager “duh” faces. Then, right before this photo was taken, I clapped my hand over part of her face. The result is the only real, honest, and beautiful smile of the set.

A keeper.

32: Untitled (Griffin at the Glow)

My hope for everyone is that we each find something in our lives for 2017 that gives us as much drop-jaw wonder as my nephew looking at the dancing flames of the butane heater at the Garden Glow event. A proper stop-you-in-your-tracks moment, something that makes you slow enough that, say, your uncle could actually get a good picture of you.

Happy New Year, and happy year that was 2016.

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