“Interplay” – Bill Evans
“Midnight Sun” – Diana Krall
“Silence Is The Question” – The Bad Plus
“Pyramid” – Modern Jazz Quartet
“All The Things You Are” – Keith Jarrett Trio
I am not all that well versed in the history of art, therefore I looked up the origins of the use of chiaroscuro (light-dark) throughout history. It seems, that like many other great classical ideas, it has been invented in Greece around 5th century B.C.
As a marginal note, at times I wonder why people insist on little logical conventions in the realm of measures. I will gloss over such obvious anachronisms like the “Imperial” measure system, which really spreads a stench of parochialism, but even the most universally accepted measure: time, is highly illogical in its structure, and the placement of “moment zero” arbitrarily according to some religious superstition seems an insult on most of the humanity today.
There is natural power in the fragile play of strong contrast between light and shadow created by people moving inside cramped, crusty streets of old towns around the Mediterranean. If you look through many paintings that stand out as milestones of the chiaroscuro technique, you will likely notice, that southern painters often used it depicting figures in the sunlight, while the northern artists were masters of the candlelight, or window portraits.
It’s really great to be able to immerse the lens of your camera in this constant game of shapes and tones. As you walk through narrow streets you literally move through curtains of light, and depending on your position, position of your subject, and the intensity of tone of the background, you are able to create plays of bright on dark or vice versa.
The research of meaning, equilibrium and beauty of chiaroscuro is one great underlying theme of photography and never fails to enchant. It also helps you train your eye to perceive more intensely the abstraction present in the everyday street imagery.
Hopefully in the next few weeks I will organize a couple of small exhibitions of some of my photographs taken in Nice, in a couple of cafe’s. One of these will be centered on the idea of “Nice on the move” and will contain many of these photos of human shadows drifting through the narrow streets of the Old Town.
When the sun synchronizes perfectly for several minutes with one of the narrow “Carrieras” (streets), they suddenly get ripped open like a can of sardines.
The impression is like uncovering a secret chamber inside a pyramid. If you are lucky, you can be rewarded with interesting plays of shapes and shadows.
Sometimes you can chance to even get a glimpse beyond the last layer of the mosaic, when a figure appears in an open window of the background wall, akin the “jacquemart” puppets that strike the hours on some church bells in the northern Europe.
Additional unexpected bonus effects take place in cases when people balance between shadow and light, dancing right on the edge.
Once in a while the sabre of light will cut a figure in half, creating a living suggestion for an unlikely deck of cards.
I’ve read somewhere, that the total energy of one hour of sunlight reaching our globe should be sufficient to cover all the current energy requirement of the humanity for a year. While I hope that we will soon learn how to use this resource efficiently, my intimate wish is to be always able to count on my hour of sunshine when out and about with a camera.
“My shining hour” – Stanley Turrentine
A “stacchetto” in italian, means a short interval, usually between one phase and the next in a popular TV show. An old origin of this concept could probably be traced down to circus performances, where a couple of clowns were entertaining the public between one complicated performance including acrobats or wild animals, and another. In today’s Italian show business the apogee of stacchetto has been reached by the famous humorist news show “Striscia la Notizia”, where they use young, beautiful and skimpily dressed girls to act as a visual break. They are called “Veline”. I’ve decided to borrow the concept to make a break between one blog theme and another – as long as there are Veline like photos in my warehouse. It’s like listening to a one minute waltz.
“Minute Waltz” – Arthur Rubinstein
After several normal posts, I feel it’s time to relax a bit by posting some non pretentious pictures of dogs. These shots tend to automatically accumulate in my “warehouse portfolio”, because, as I’ve already explained before, I am a victim of the knee-jerk dog photographing syndrome.
One thing you learn, while approaching people with dogs, is that they tend to be a bit more relaxed too, and it is easier to persuade them having their picture taken, if the apparent object of it all is their pet.
Another interesting observation I’ve made, is that among the various tramps and clochards who go around with dogs, the level of care they devote to these animals is very high. At times, it seems that they keep better their dogs, than they keep themselves.
Most dogs in Nice are small. The benchmark size is probably around a Jack Russell Terrier.
Trying to observe, if there is a specific category of people among the dog owners, you will likely point to the retirees, particularly the lonely ones.
But in the end, dogs are very popular here, and you find them in company of all kinds of people.
Just like people come in all kinds of types, so do the dogs.
I’ve learnt from Elliot Erwitt, that when shooting dogs, the legs sometimes can be more interesting than the rest.
Some dogs are shy, while others like to control the situation, just like us, humans.
It’s nice to spot sometimes a resemblance between the dog and owner.
It can be resemblance of style, or even age.
And even resemblance of the sense of purpose.
Till the point, when it all merges in one.
Let’s wrap it all up in a relaxed way, with our gaze wandering over Nice through the Baye des Anges and us and our dog lost in meditation.
“Meditation” – Dexter Gordon
As the streets narrow and the sun raises, the geometry plays start to suck you in. It is better though to look around for some sign of life.
There is always a constant state of flux between what light you get at a given time of day, and the people you luck on meeting while you are waiting for your compositions to unfold.
A good balance is found, when you find a person that is interesting, yet integrates seamlessly with the surroundings.
Inside the maze of old streets, the space becomes so tight and dark at times, that you start gasping for air.
Not all aspects are negative though – during the warm season, extensive shade has its cooling benefits
I continue being split between these unexpected plays of light and shapes, and a desire to document human presence.
I manage to cross a postman on his duties, and after a short wait luck out to shoot him as he emerges from behind the corner whistling a popular melody.
This combination of old architecture and atmospheric light, sometimes plays out in a serendipitous way with some patterns created by unfolding life.
The square in front of the cathedral has this interesting stone mosaic as pavement, but even though I waited patiently, there was nothing extraordinary to focus the image on.
Imagine having an apartment with two balconies like these, overlooking the cathedral square with that beautiful paving, and with a breathtaking view spanning over the frontier with Italy up to the hills behind San Remo. What do you use it for? Evidently, not for posing topless… This lady has been scrubbing the floor for good fifteen minutes, and eventually stood up and disappeared inside the home leaving me just with this single shot.
Then I managed to get a glimpse of this pair, neatly placed in a tidy corner of the composition.
As I walked down towards the parking lot, this pair of elderly people gracefully made the closing image. In all I shot 5 rolls of 120 film x 16 frames each, which makes 80 frames. Then I went for a well deserved lunch.
Out of these 80 frames, I’ve selected about 40, have shown 23, and there are 3 or 4 that I like quite a bit, which confirms a rule of thumb, that your decent images are between 3 and 5 % of what you take ( divide this by 10 if you are a digital photographer). Then, if you are lucky, out of all these “best” images, you select one or two frames in a year that perhaps can stand out.
Hmm… what a waste of film !
“Flim” – The Bad Plus
On these rare occasions when I can be on my own planning for making photographs, I usually see to exploit the closest surroundings of Monaco. Yes, after some time it gets increasingly difficult to keep your eyes sharp while looking at well known places, but I happen to be lucky enough to be in an area that offers a wide variety of themes, from the sea to the mountains, passing through old and new architecture, beaches, busy markets and narrow streets filled with people. If you season this with the marvelous light that pervades the Riviera, there is enough subject matter to put under your teeth.
Menton has a fabulous seafront promenade, beginning at the adjacent Cap Martin and terminating at the frontier with Italy, but also an interesting old hilltop town reminiscent of the other “vertical villages” on the Ligurian coast. Moreover, it is home to several beautiful botanic gardens. The peculiarity of it’s old part, is the cemetery, placed at the very top, where you can find the graves of people like William Webb Ellis – the inventor of rugby, or several dozens of “white” Russian refugees, who fled the bolsheviks in 1917, including a heir of count Leo Tolstoj.
I’ve decided to write this post , composed of two parts ( as the photos are numerous), to show how such an outing, focused on looking for interesting images, evolves. Inevitably there are many shots that don’t quite make the grade of successful, but should give you the idea about the work involved in getting one or two decent results- if you are prepared and lucky.
Yes, I know, I am a sucker for seascapes, and the fact that I’ve finally managed to learn how to effortlessly swim freestyle isn’t going to make me any less fascinated with this topic.
Before heading towards the Old Menton, I’ve spotted this British lady selling summer clothes, and she kindly consented for a portrait with the mirror.
You know I also cannot avoid taking pictures of dogs, so here’s one.
Perhaps it might be interesting for someone how I prepare for a such a shoot – about. The general rule is: the smaller the distance necessary to cover on feet, the bigger the format. In this case I’ve opted for 6×45: two Bronica RF cameras with the 45, 65 and 100mm lenses.
You will find this old well right at the bottom of the path leading up into the maze of narrow streets.
The interaction of contrasty light and old architecture makes people appear often only as cut-outs, or gouaches decoupees – made famous by Picasso and Matisse.
The staircase leading to the St Michel cathedral looks from the sea as a giant flipper board, and people moving up and down appear as balls rolling in the game.
As you move in, the space suddenly loses its natural horizontal extension, and becomes predominantly vertical. At that point you discover who rules the skies.
This is probably the firs decent shot of that outing. I’ve frozen in an uncomfortable position for several minutes, pressed between the pavement stones and a wall in order to maintain the proper frame, and then waited for somebody who would trigger the picture. This was probably the third or fourth attempt, but it was worth insisting. I like this image a lot.
“Looking For Somebody” – Fleetwood Mac