LOOKING AT NICE # 13 OR ABOUT CHIAROSCURO

The extraordinary power of light
The extraordinary power of light

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.

Walking shadow
Walking shadow

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.

Rag time
Rag time

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.

Signposts
Signposts

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.

Street poetry
Street poetry

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.

Somone is watching over you
Somebody’s watching over you

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.

Light struck
Light struck

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.

Jacquemart
Jacquemart

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.

Walking the line
Walking the line

Additional unexpected bonus effects take place in cases when people balance between shadow and light, dancing right on the edge.

Middleman
Middleman

Once in a while the sabre of light will cut a figure in half, creating a living suggestion for an unlikely deck of cards.

Light spirit
Light spirit

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

Stacchetto

Velina
Velina

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

 

Dog day II

Taking it easy
Taking it easy

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.

Thanks for posing
Thanks for posing

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.

Dog on the road
Dog on the road

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.

Benchmark dog
Benchmark dog

Most dogs in Nice are small. The benchmark size is probably around a Jack Russell Terrier.

Retired
Retired

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.

Closer
Close

But in the end, dogs are very popular here, and you find them in company of all kinds of people.

Heavyweight
Heavyweight

Just like people come in all kinds of types, so do the dogs.

Featherweight
Featherweight

I’ve learnt from Elliot Erwitt, that when shooting dogs, the legs sometimes can be more interesting than the rest.

Safe heaven
Safe heaven

Some dogs are shy, while others like to control the situation, just like us, humans.

Dominant position
Dominant position

It’s nice to spot sometimes a resemblance between the dog and owner.

Bohemien dog
Bohemien dog

It can be resemblance of style, or even age.

Puppies
Puppies

And even resemblance of the sense of purpose.

Tandem
Tandem

Till the point, when it all merges in one.

Mandog
Womandog

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.

Lost in meditation
Lost in meditation

 “Meditation” – Dexter Gordon

A walk around in Menton, or about looking for images – part II

Geometry lesson
Geometry lesson

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.

The architecture starts getting more interesting
The architecture starts getting more interesting

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.

And the subjects too
And the subjects too

A good balance is found, when you find a person that  is interesting, yet integrates seamlessly with the surroundings.

Artefacts
Artefacts

Inside the maze of old streets, the space becomes so tight and dark at times, that you start gasping for air.

Way out
Way out

Not all aspects are negative though – during the warm season, extensive shade has its cooling benefits

Abstraction
Abstraction

I continue being split between these unexpected plays of light and shapes, and a desire to document human presence.

Postman to the rescue
Postman to the rescue

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.

Opposing figures
Opposing figures

This combination of old architecture and atmospheric light, sometimes plays out in a serendipitous way with some patterns created by unfolding life.

Stone carpet
Stone carpet

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.

Housewife
Housewife

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.

Cornered
Cornered

Then I managed to get a glimpse of this pair, neatly placed in a tidy corner of the composition.

The story is over
The story is over

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

A walk around in Menton, or about looking for images – part I

Let's begin with a selfie
Let’s begin with a selfie

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.

A view from the port
A view from the port

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.

Fusion
Fusion

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.

A knee-jerk seascape
A knee-jerk seascape

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.

Local expat
Local expat

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.

Knee-jerk dog
Knee-jerk dog

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.

On the edge
On the edge

You will find this old well right at the bottom of the path leading up into the maze of narrow streets.

Gouaches decoupees
Gouaches decoupees

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.

Flipper
Flipper

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.

Vertical space
Vertical space

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.

First catch
First catch

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