Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Winter Developments, Stops, and Fixes

1. Let Aperture subscription lapse again. No regrets.

2. Let Penonomen and Instaxgratification lapse. Slight regrets. 

3. Tried posting a random photo on Facebook the other day, just to see what might happen. Mixed results. 

4. Let B lapse. Website hella lapsed. Is there a trend here?

5. There's a new home being built this winter in the woods about a half mile away. Well, it used to be woods. Last year they clearcut the entire lot —roughly 25 acres— for the homesite. We can see it from our kitchen window and my curiosity's been killing me. So yesterday Zane and I bushwhacked across the adjoining property for a look at the house, now in the final framing stages. Turned out it was closer to a mansion than a house, several thousand square feet, twelve foot ceilings, the works. 

While we were nosing around inside, the owners drove up, a young couple with a toddler. I introduced myself as a neighbor and they were nice enough about our trespassing. But I could tell it bugged the guy. I was wearing a hoodie, rough beard, backpack, and muddy boots, and could've been perfectly cast —in his mind— in any variety of unsavory roles. Zane was mute as usual. We live right over there, I said, pointing into the bushes. I wasn't sure what else to add. "Nice house, and damn it's huuuuge!" Nah, I couldn't say that. Instead we just wished them Happy President's Day and disappeared in the direction I'd pointed. 

6. Minolta broken. Leica beaten to a brassing pulp. I recently sold my Hexar and put the money into a Zeiss Ikon ZM. It's been a wonderful winter camera, and promises to be a workhorse well into the future.

7. During winter my main exercise is basketball. I've been playing 3 mornings a week at the Y with a group of slow, short, middle aged white guys like myself. It's great fun. To play basketball well —and maybe other sports like soccer and hockey— requires a level of non-planning which is difficult to attain. When you first receive the ball you basically have three options: pass, dribble, or shoot. Of course your defender knows your options too, and will react according to what he thinks your tendencies are. If you always make the same action you become easy to defend. So it's good to mix things up. No planning.

But it's more complicated than that. Because beyond mixing up actions, you've got to mix your brain up too. If the plan is "pump fake, then drive" it will be hard to sell your plan unless you leave your brain in the dark. Because a planned fake-drive just looks...well, fake. A good defender won't bite. In photography terms, it's the difference between staged and candid. There's no mistaking the real McCoy. Therefore the most effective shooting action is to make your brain actually think it's going to shoot. And who knows? Maybe you will? Then your whole being becomes invested in the motion. It looks like a shot attempt, your eyes go wide, you feel like you're about to...Then Boom —drive! If it works well you surprise everyone, including yourself. 

I think this is related to Csikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow, but that's another story and far too academic for the Y. I just know I enjoy the task of mixing up my brain. Plus I like to sweat. 

8. For me, winter is the time to print. Most weeks I edit about 20 rolls and print maybe 70 negs in the darkroom. This is faster than my rate of shooting this time of year, so I'm slowly catching up. But I'm still a year backlogged. The darkroom produces a lot of good-but-not-quite-there work prints which I'm happy to mail out to anyone interested. Just ask.

9. This winter has been hard on our cars. We had two of them destroyed in an ice storm. Thankfully we'd parked the Bentley in the field that night, so it escaped falling limbs. But the others got whacked. We replaced the windshield of one, and then I hit a deer with it. I can make someone a good deal on a Toyota Sienna with minor body damage.

10. For the first several years of my radio show I enjoyed keeping the material unorganized. But this winter I've phased into theme oriented shows. I did a show on musicians who died last year, and recent sets on the Moon, Kings, Pussies, and Love Songs for Valentine's Day. This shift to themed music has been unconscious and I'm not sure I entirely like it. After all, there is something beautifully brainless about pure free form radio where no one —not the DJ, nor the listener— knows what will happen next. I suppose it's a bit like basketball in that way. I like to play multiple songs on top of each other, which is like dribble/drive/shoot combined.

Nevertheless I've been drifting toward themed shows. The dilemma —and the opportunity— of the contemporary DJ is the same as for the photo curator or the foodie or fashion maven: Every song ever recorded is immediately accessible. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, coming about just in the past decade or so, and content curators in all fields are still sorting through the ramifications. In this context, themes can help cut through the clutter. But damn if I don't love clutter. Anyhoo, today is Black Song Title History Month. 

11. Heading to LA this weekend for Bookfair and Academy Awards. I'll be easy to spot at the Oscars, the only guy in a hoodie and muddy boots. Anyone down there who wants to get together for a beer and/or shooting, hit me up.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Street Photographer's Guide to Hats

Baseball Cap — From its meager beginnings as an item of sporting equipment, the baseball cap has blossomed into the default headgear for dorky white dudes in cargo shorts everywhere, a category which includes most street photographers. This is an excellent hat for shooters seeking the sun protection of a front bill but who don't require the full shelter of a floppy sun hat, or who think they might look goofy in something with a full brim. The narrow aerodynamic design allows for quick acceleration when tailing pedestrian subjects on foot, and unidirectional brim allows the head and neck to rest easily against the furniture of public transit. The wide availability of baseball caps hats on the market —many with custom designs above the front bill— allow for expressive possibilities for photographers seeking to brand, promote, and advertise products or personal habits Leica.

Worn by: Yours Truly (shown), Matt Stuart, Matt Weber, Troy Holden, Ricky Powell

Narrow-brim Fedora — The dapper fedora isn't just for hipsters anymore. Street photographers too have noticed its potential. The narrow cantilever provides sun/rain shelter while minimizing potentially negative wind effects. On the street fedoras can have a calming effect on subjects —especially in gentrifying or wealthy zones— lulling pedestrians into a shootable mood of complacency or wistful admiration. This is a good hat for film shooters or others with a nostalgic connection to the era of Hollywood film noir or Prohibition speakeasy, or for digital shooters using a camera with retro-styling. Memory cards can be tucked into the hat band for storage. This hat will look as good at the end of shooting season as it does at the start.

Worn by: Alex Coghe (shown), Rinzi Ruiz, Richard Bram, Jack Simon

Floppy Sun Hat — A balanced blend of timeless traditionalism and cutting edge functionality, the floppy sun hat has been a favorite of street photographers for years. This is the hat that evenly lit the face of Vivian Maier in her many self portraits. The nanny savant pioneered the combination of floppy brim and waist-level viewfinder to create a sort of working-man's dark cloth to block stray sunlight from her ground glass. But that's not all; this hat's spacious underbelly shelters eye-level finders as well. The sun hat blends well on city streets as well as beaches, promenades, and other arid locales. The Hollywood styling and dramatically cantilevered brim imbue the wearer with a pioneering sense of adventure which expresses itself photographically in surprising ways. 

Worn by: Vivian Maier (shown), Helen Levitt

Cowboy Hat — Street photographers do not wear cowboy hats. A proscription against such hats is written into the bylaws of street photography. This doesn't mean you can't wear one occasionally while practicing other sorts of shooting. A cowboy hat may actually be a benefit when shooting sunsets, waterfalls, and rodeos. But when hunting for decisive moments in shifting urban scenes, cowboy hats are strictly prohibited. Why? Just because. That's why. 

Worn by: Ansel Adams (shown)

Space Shell — A protective shell is essential when shooting in hazardous environments like war zones, developing countries, outer space, or just a junket to the other side of the tracks. Although a construction hardhat might substitute in a pinch, for full 360 vision nothing beats the clear space shell. Weegee often used the space shell —with cutout mouth to release his cigar's exhaust— to photograph in lurid and combative situations. It's no accident that he escaped facial trauma for his entire career. The disadvantage of the space shell is that it may attract unwanted attention in certain "normal" environments, making fly-on-the-wall candid photography difficult. In most cases this is easily overcome by sheer force of personality. And even if the shell becomes an unwanted focus, it's a small price to pay for the security of head and eye protection. Because if you can't see, you can't shoot. Duh.

Worn by: Weegee (shown)

Tweed Driver Cap — Picture yourself on a busy urban sidewalk surrounded by a mix of unwitting pedestrians, posters, buskers, and bums, all engaged in the daily dance. It's visual grist for your mill, just waiting for you to come along and deliver the clever juxta! Yes, you're about to climb into the shutterbug driver's seat and subjugate the masses to your aperture, and won't you look dandy doing so in your tweed driver cap. Crafted from world famous Harris Tweed cloth and handwoven by Scottish islanders, this cap puts a hop into any street photographer's step. With diamond quilted lining for comfort, leather trim, and trim anterior styling, the tweed driver cap fits easily into your camera bag when not in use, ready for action when you are. After the shoot is over and you're ready to relax, no worries. This hat blends equally well on the links! Just leave it on the head while you hit a few balls and recount the day's outing.

Worn by: Bill Cunningham (backward), Thomas Leuthard (shown), Yanidel

Black Watchman's Cap — Ever since Randall McMurphy broke the wool ceiling in the mid-seventies, this cap has been climbing the headgear social ladder. At this point it's a well accepted accoutrement in gentrifying neighborhoods the world over. In rain or shine, hot or cold weather, indoors or out, a black wool cap allows the photographer to blend in while shooting hipsters, musicians, and proto-yuppies, or while ordering a latte machiatto. But that's not all. Want to shoot the homeless and destitute? Leave the hat on and blend in seamlessly. Either way, this hat's permanent stealth mode allows a level of candidness and discretion that photographers in other hats can only dream about. Truly a hat for all seasons and uses, with fully fashioned crown for custom shaping, and constructed of naturally hydrophobic material to minimize water effects.

Worn by: Daniel Arnold (shown), The Edge, Joe Aguirre, Jack Nicholson

Leica Fur Pillbox Hat Made of fur from sustainably harvested mink and stitched with biodegradable linen twine in Leica's Wetzlar factory, the classic black background with red trim accessorizes with a variety of Leica camera equipment. The large logo is clearly visible at wide distances, and puts your world on notice that you care enough to invest in the best. But as good as this hat looks, its design is backed up by world class functionality. The sleek circumference stays above the fray of camera knobs and dials while keeping your head comfortable at subzero temperatures. When used in warmer climates, just remove the hat to let cool air circulate. Of course luxury comes at a cost. At a list price of $1,800, this hat isn't for everyone. Most street photographers will probably be happy in an inferior headgear, and that's fine. Let them. But for street photographers with the means and discrimination to use only the best hat possible, Leica's fur pillbox hat is in a class of its own. 

Worn by: Top models (shown), celebrities, and the idle wealthy.

Bucket HatThe bucket hat has had an uneasy place in the fashion world since gaining prominence —and a certain degree of ridicule— in the 1960s TV series Gilligan's Island. Bob Denver's buffoonish character cratered the market for bucket hats almost singlehandedly, driving its wearers underground for decades, into comedy clubs, poetry slams, convenience stores, and other obscure locales. Photographers were no exception. But, in a bit of headgear jujitsu, the hat's meager stature has gradually enabled it to gain a foothold in recent years in the overlooked, under appreciated observer role. Worn in public, the bucket hat attracts little if any attention, allowing street photographers to pass through the world invisibly. In terms of functionality the canvas material performs adequately, sheaving rain away from the face and affording a base level of warmth. 

Worn by: Bruce Gilden (shown)

Pink Pussy HatA latecomer on the street shooting scene, the pink pussy hat came out of nowhere to sweep the world by storm in January. When worn at rallies and protest, this hat allows street photographers to blend into crowds, and to express solidarity with surrounding rational (non-Trumpian) belief systems. The pussy hat comes in a bewildering variety of forms, colors, designs, and sources, stretching the platonic ideal of "pussy hat" into a globe spanning phenomenon. Most are hand-knit from wool for warmth and durability. If damaged, a home repair is often possible. The pink pussy hat may prove useful while shooting protestors, posters, and even the occasional feline candid, but if worn while shooting pussies, the photographer is likely to be belted in the schnoz. Destined to be a classic.

Worn proudly by: Millions around the world (sample shown)