The Law Of The Hammer, or about serendipity in a 35mm camera

Good morning
Good morning

I believe, I have already mentioned in some earlier post,  Maslow’s Law Of The Instrument. Simply put, it says, that if you have a hammer in your hand, everything appears to be resembling a nail. The underlying observation was criticizing a simplistic approach in trying to resolve new problems with old tools.

Path companions
Path companions

As I am writing this, only a few days separate me from the end of annual holidays. In September the usual routine will resume, and the photo opportunities during the week will shrink down to a couple of 20 minute walks to and from the office, plus an odd exit to buy some food.

Dog walk
Dog walk

Monaco is little longer than a couple of kilometers, and I cover that distance twice a day. In the mornings, the typical company are people walking the dogs and the sanitation workers washing the pavements.

Anti Geox treatment
Anti Geox treatment

Anybody would understand quickly, that there is not much to be expected from street life at 7AM or 10PM, if you walk a narrow path along the sea, even in a place like Monte Carlo. Yet, somehow, the simplistic rule of the hammer can be your friend if you insist to always bring your 35mm camera along. My typical “viaticum” is a Leica with a 35mm or 50mm lens.

 Chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro

All the pictures in this post have been made like that: during these daily routine walks, plus occasional exits for some quick shopping. Admittedly, they at most can be considered to be “almost” photographs, and as Gianni Berengo Gardin said: an “almost” photograph amounts to nothing.

Keep the eye on the ball
Keep the eyes on the ball

None the less, keeping your eyes open every day is important. It maintains your vision sharp.  Moreover, when you try to make yourself receptive to generic visual stimuli, you activate the diffuse thinking, which can reward you with important insights later.

Visual exercise
Visual exercise

Sometimes I get a bit more lucky when out to do the shopping. This usually is a round trip of about one kilometer.

Strange fruit
Strange fruit

One has to believe in serendipity, or to be completely rational, in the concept, that luck favours those who are prepared.

Law and order
Law and order

Sometimes, it takes a bit of gymnastics to grab the Leica and focus quickly, while you hold a couple of shopping bags in your hands.

Sway
Sway

I don’t think I’m at all original in saying all this, but like always the proof is in the pudding, and nowadays more than ever to believe is to see.

Lucky strike
Lucky strike

At times you don’t need to hope for the impossible, and just accept to take images that happen right in front of you.

Fancy
Fancy

When the evening sets in, the scenario becomes more difficult, owing to less generous illumination.

Motion blur
Motion blur

Evening images necessarily have to be more sterile and abstract.

Moon geometry
Moon geometry

I’ve come to appreciate the deep contrast and ambiguity of night photography,  although it’s not so easy to do it hand held on film.

Moon post
Moon post

The shimmer of the moon on sea is often providing an attractive backdrop, just like the illumination of the railings.

Light path
Return home

Thinking, learning, making photographs makes me feel alive.

“Viaticum” – Esbjorn Svensson Trio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOOKING AT NICE # 11 : A fly on the wall, or a slice of life photography.

Internal traveller
Internal traveller

Showing people in various life situations in a way which does not let you perceive they were aware of being photographed, is called in the PJ jargon  “a fly on the wall” photography, where the role of the fly is obviously assumed by the photographer himself.

Literary addiction
Literary addiction

Old Nice is made of narrow streets, cramped boutiques and small cafe’s, which usually spill out their tables in the streets.  All this makes observing life easier, and it is not so difficult to disappear in the flow of tourists, each with a camera hanging from their neck.

Confessing to Mephistopheles
Confessing to Mephistopheles

I usually try to have a couple of small cameras at the ready, when the scope is to “catch life unaware”. A rangefinder with a 25 or 28mm lens ready in hand, and another one, or even an SLR, with a 50mm or something slightly longer around the neck. Typically, the wider lens is set on a hyperfocal.

Self portrait with a rangefinder set
Self portrait with a rangefinder set

Above, you can see my shadow with a typical set: Voigtlander Bessa R4A + 25/2.8 Biogon ZM and Leica M7 with the Summilux 50 pre ASPH.

A frpzen memory
A frozen memory

But to be the fly on the wall is not an end in itself. The real scope for me, is to freeze a memory, and at the same time create a visual record of a scene, and a personal reminder of how a moment in the life of the person depicted looked like.

Everyday chores
Everyday chores

Contrary to what most of us think, our memory is not homogenous, it divides in the so called STM (short term memory),  WM (working memory) and LTM (long term memory). The working memory takes care of everything that we need to remember in order to function normally performing various tasks,the LTM is a store of relationships between various memory items, and  the STM gives us the immediate impression about things  we are capable of recording here and now in our surrounding environment and which we are able to perceive through all senses.

On a lookout
On a lookout

While the STM, or as some call it “the immediate photographic memory” is capable of taking in a selective quantity of information, it fades away very quickly: we forget 50% of it within 3 seconds, and within 18 seconds 90% is gone. This, in my perception, is what makes pictures so appealing as a document: they are capable of freezing even a minute detail of your life for centuries. Perhaps this is another reason why the selfies have become so popular.

Background detail
Background detail

The photographer has also the power to choose the degree of detail necessary, and decide selectively what part of an image deserves to be exposed. Inverting the typical concept of background blur in a portrait can sometimes yield interesting outcomes.

Real story
Real story

I love to steal little spontaneous everyday gestures,like the girl here adjusting her hair,  which in my eyes are infinitely more photographically appealing than fancy poses. One of the masters of this genre is the American photographer Mary Ellen Mark. I like particularly her series on bathtubs.

“Are You Real ?” – Benny Golson Quintet

LOOKING AT NICE # 9

Walking man
Walking man

Observing the Old Nice in the mornings, you can’t help to feel a certain energy, emanating from how people move around after their affairs. The tourists usually get up late, and tend to leak through the narrow streets at a tantalizingly slow pace. Not so for the locals, who have a more determined attitude.

A step away from the Promenade
A step away from the Promenade

While I am writing this, I find myself in a big city – Warsaw, with  no concentrated center, typical of old human settlements. Warsaw has been completely destroyed during the WW II, and only a tiny part has been reconstructed. The rest got built loosely along the old canvas, but with modern planning, and total disregard for hitherto existing property rights. The streets are unnaturally  wide, almost out of proportion, and human figures appear insignificantly small. This type of urban planning was in part driven by the wish to make sure Soviet tanks could operate freely inside the city, and in part by the general trend of  “socialist realism”, which wanted to de-emphasize the role of the individual in a collectivist society.

Goal driven
Goal driven

As much as I’m normally not connected to modern art, I’ve long admired two sculptures: “The Unique Forms Of Continuity In Space” by Umberto Boccioni, and the “Walking Man” by Alberto Giacometti. They both stubbornly concentrate on the force of the individual, and as with most great works of art, represent a powerful synthesis of human life. Boccioni, in my eyes, stresses the drive, the energy underlying a hope for a humanity that was anxiously anticipating a better future on the wings of the industrial revolution.

Homo faber
Homo faber

Giacometti instead makes me perceive, to be concentrating on the concept of purposeful effort, as if he wanted to stress that the true role of man is to be Homo Faber – a creator and transformer. If you look carefully, there is a resemblance between the angle at which his figure walks forward, and the angle necessary to assume by the man pulling his trolley. This angle pushes forward our civilization.

“Walking Man” – James Taylor

Looking at Nice # 8

Porte Fausse
Porte Fausse

This passage dividing Old Nice from what used to be the bank of Paillon river is one of notable elements of the local architecture. It has been decorated with beautiful plates of marble, and you will find a small water fountain at the bottom of the stairs.

Meditating about the false door
Meditating about the false door

What is not very clear, is how this name actually originated. From above, the “door”, or rather a gate looks spacious and impressive, but once you pass through, you get swallowed up by the maze of tiny passages, not even meriting names of proper streets. Hence probably, the name, evoking a delusion.

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – Randy Crawford

Looking at Nice # 7

A new day begins
A new day begins

I like observing how a day begins in small urban centers. There are usually some rituals: opening the window shades, watering the plants, walking the dogs, getting out to buy bread and newspapers, taking a cofee in a bar, etc.

Sun over the Colline du Chateau
Sun over the Colline du Chateau

In the Old Nice, all this takes place, as the sun rises above the Colline du Chateau – the hill  once crowned with a fortified castle, and today a civic park. Here, the mornings are imbued with sharp light, and there is not much car traffic, because the streets are cramped and parking is almost impossible. Most people move around on feet, bicycle or a scooter.

“Rise Up In The Morning” – Modern Jazz Quartet