La belle de nuit

Cold beauty
Cold beauty

Perhaps not many of you have seen the famous 1967 film by Louis Bunuel: “La belle de jour”, with Cathrine Deneuve  in the role of a “glacially cold beauty”. While uploading photos of Monaco, I can’t help noticing, how many have been taken at dusk or night.  ( La belle de nuit = The beauty of the night) There are a couple of reasons: I work till late, so I can only shoot  in the evening, and the subject itself, in my opinion, has a special appeal when it gets dark.

The Monaco night scenes you normally see, are offering sweeping views of the whole town, or of  the Port Hercule.  I prefer to look for less popular angles, trying to show the place, and some human detail at the same time.

A peculiar feature of life here, is the “multilayering” – literal and symbolic. On multiple levels, often one directly above the other, you can see a sandwich of natural beauty, exuberant  social life, and secluded moments of contemplation. Continue reading

JAZZ !

Harmony, vitality, improvisation.
Harmony, vitality, improvisation.

Jazz, parallel to photography, is my second big passion in life. In some ways, I perceive jazz and photography to be siblings, but this should be a theme for a separate story.

When I wrote a few days ago about the shadows and Rayographs, it was just a superficial treatment of a subject, which has much more to offer to an inquisitive art lover.

The making of camera-less photographs is as old as photography itself.  The golden period of photograms (this is how most photographers were calling them) starts around 1920 and ends before 1946, when Laszlo Moholy-Nagy died.

In 1941 Henri Matisse was diagnosed with cancer, and had an operation. This gave him another lease of life, but weakened substantially his forces. He decided to let go the painting and sculpture, and concentrated on the cut outs – often making them in his bed, or bound to a wheelchair. In 1946 he put together an album of twenty collages, and presented them as a book of printed plates, titled: “Jazz”. Matisse’s friend and editor Efstratios Teriade  executed the work in only 270 copies. Teriade was also publishing an art magazine called “Verve”, where he already presented some of Matisse’s early collage works.

You will have a chance to read about the importance of Matisse’s “Jazz” elsewhere. What has struck a note with me, was the coincidence of timing between the photograms an the cut outs. The coincidence does not end here. Although I have not found any proof of the direct link between Teriade, Matisse and Norman Granz, the latter has founded in 1956 a jazz record label called “Verve”. The first release, was a double LP of Ella Fitzgerald, singing the “Cole Porter Songbook”.

Anything goes
Anything goes

The record had become an instant success. Ella Fitzgerald, dubbed as the “Voice of an Angel” is one of my favourite singers, although, I prefer  the middle period of her career, before she jumped into scat , and before her voice acquired a somewhat higher pitch. This is my preferred track from this album – not too slow, not too fast, and without the annoying company of strings.

I get a kick out of you
I get a kick out of you

Continue reading

The unbearable lightness of being

A Dick Fossbury phone call?
A Dick Fossbury phone call?

I remember being struck by certain photographic images, that were weird to the point of being unreal. It was like seeing life stepping out of its tracks. The title, borrowed from a known novel by Milan Kundera, underscores that sensation.

The two most famous examples, that come to my mind, are “Tree and Chicken” by Edouard Boubat, and “Boy, Valencia 1933” by Henri cartier Bresson. In reality, these photographs are a revenge of the photographer on the normalcy of the ordinary. In both cases, a passing illusion, or momentary coincidence,  has been served as if it was something making part of a special type of reality, reserved for the initiated few.

Boubat, has found a trick to transform two dimensions into three (or, maybe it was the other way round?), while HCB has shown us what looks like a  moment of clearvoyant ecstasy, but in reality was a boy following his ball in the air.

Is that legittimate? I don’t have doubts it is.  The importrant part of photography, is to show us how life looks like , when we have the time to actually analyze the image inch by inch, rather than get a pre processed message from our brain, which has categorized the image for us.

Struck by mourning?
Shot by paparazzi ?

My friend, the shadow

 Shadow parade
Shadow parade

Black and white photography, with all its simplicity and purity, has serious limitations.  There is a restricted range of tonal values, between the pure white and complete black, and to be quite frank, the absolute values of the extremes are somewhat limited by the medium, both at the stage of the negative, and particularly at that of the print. To make up for this, B&W photography has to play out all the visual tricks, to persuade us, that we look at something that closely resembles things and people we like to look at, and to try to create an emotion.

Perspective has been at various stages discovered, at times forgotten, then taken up anew and finally perfected, beginning with the Antiquity. It has been diffused during the Renaissance, and a couple of centuries later Vermeer has  developed it to mastery. By the way, it looks, like he was not unfamiliar with the instrument  that eventually gave birth to photography itself. If you are interested, there is a very fascinating story behind his alleged use of Camera Obscura.

Only during the renaissance however, the painters have discovered Chiaroscuro – the three dimensional effect they could create on a flat surface, through careful placement of brightly and dimly lit elements of reality. The most renowned “inventor” of the shadows in art has been Leonardo da Vinci. Subsequently, Caravaggio, and above all Rembrandt,  have further developed the technique. But the shadows have always been secondary to the subject, were only an attribute.

I think, the first artist, who gave up the subject and shadow link, limiting his visual narrative to two dimensional shapes on simple background, has been Matisse, notably in his cutouts. In photography, his equivalent has been Man Ray, with his Rayographs.

Today, shadows have an important role to play in photography, and I often find, that the shadow itself, rather than its source, can become a key element transforming an ordinary scene into a space filled with poetry and mystery.

Walking lantern
Walking lantern

A particularly interesting and difficult use of shadow consists of incorporating primary subjects and shadows in an interplay, where both elements acquire equal importance in the final image. To my mind, one of the photographers, who has used this technique to a great effect is Ralph Gibson.

 Confluence
Confluence

 

 

A Tale of the Frog Prince

When I was a little boy, I did not go to the kindergarden. To make up the for the lack of contact with my peers in these early years,  I went through all the common childhood infective diseases, one after another, during my first year of school.

While bedridden, I tried my hand at a number of pastimes: sewing buttons, making fabric on a miniature loom and drawing. Drawing was the least successful – evidently I knew that my destiny was to go into photography… However, the preferred occupation was reading fairy tales. If you like Grimm brothers, the “Prince Frog” will be a familiar story.

Ash tray King
Ashtray King

Yesterday’s reference to window shots by Sudek and Kertesz has made me realize, that from time to time, I like to play the game of transforming common objects into celebrities in my photographs. The difference perhaps, is, that in my case, I like to use the street as backdrop, and seek to find harmony composed out of a few non related elements. This is also why I like to use short macro lenses, as walk around “normals”.

Window shopping
Window shopping

 

Showers of light

Winter is the only time of year on Cote d’Azur, when you can spot some interesting light. For the rest of the time, clear skies are the most frequent backdrop to your landscape photographs. I don’t have many opportunities to travel, so I have adopted a method similar to that of fishermen, who choose their fixed locations, and patiently wait for a catch. I keep in the corner of my office a camera on a tripod, with a telephoto lens attached and loaded with film at the ready, waiting for opportunities. Sometimes, I get rewarded with interesting images.

This reminds me somewhat the stories of artists like Josef Sudek and Andre’ Kertesz, who made treasure of photographs they were making through the windows of their studios.

Early morning catch
Early morning catch

Surreal street

Once you start walking out your door with a camera in hand, you start noticing how different the world looks in reality as opposed to what one might reasonably expect. I am not talking here about sudden upheavals or calamities, rather about everyday events, which show how much surreal is the commonplace.

The Surrealist movement in art, was born out of a brief Dada idea, which in substance marked a revolt against the state of mind and art, that led humanity into the madness of self destruction during the Great War. Surrealists wanted to mix reality and fantasy, like what happens in our dreams, to arrive at what they called “enhanced reality”.

You will find ample reference to the background of this movement in the Surrealist Manifesto of Andre’ Breton.  A phrase, which most succinctly depicts, how they wanted to proceed, is in my opinion, the following:

It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled.

In photography, surrealism has produced many wonderful images, having evolved at a time, when photography became ubiquitous, thus influencing some of the most prominent photographers of the 20th century. One of the images hanging on my wall, is the famous “Violon d’Ingres” by Man Ray. By the way, the self-irreverent title of this work, is explained here.

A whole amusing and interesting series of articles on surrealism in photography – in particular, that of Henri Cartier Bresson, has been written by Adam Marelli.

The picture, that has summed it all up, is a homage to Surrealism, and his foremost hero – Salvador Dali, shot by Philippe Halsman: “Dali Atomicus”.

On a more modest note, street life thrives in warm climates, and the more time people spend outdoors, the more likely it is, you will see something unusual, like in this shot taken in Menton.

Room without walls
Room without walls

 

6X6

 A balancing act
A balancing act

I like shooting the square format at times.  No, not because it is easier then to decide which side of the picture to crop. Precisely because the composition within a square has to account for this more “static” format. I have noticed, that strong diagonals are often more successful within this formula. Circular compositions are also appearing more natural.

Triangle in a square
Triangle in a square

Looking at this picture, I can’t help feeling some tension, between the triangle ( dog, owner, bench) of main subject, and the swirling square of the shop window in the background. The verticals look so strange, because this street has a strong downward inclination. I think, it would have been difficult to combine this with a rectangular crop.

Photographing silence

When I lived in Milan, I remember being struck by the enigmatic images of beach scenes, exposed in a gallery on the corner of via Brera and via Monte di Pieta’. These were paintings by Walter Lazzaro, from his series “Silenzi” ( Silences). Lazzaro has been once depicted by an art critic to be “the painter of silence”. But, how does one show silence?

This, has been one of his landmark images.

Whenever I make a photograph that comes close to his style, I end up asking myself: is this really evocative of silence? You will have to judge.

Silence ?
Silence ?

Shadow detail

 

Early morning shadows
Early morning shadows

One of the nice aspects of traditional B&W film photography, is the possibility to choose your tools – beginning with the camera lens, the film, the exposure and development technique, as a function of desired image tonality, and contrast. Old school B&W is all about an extended scale of grays, with good shadow detail. While it is fairly easy to vary the exposure/development stage, and great films, like Tri X are still widely available, a lens that is well suited for B&W is always a treasure to behold.

The local Dickens club, Menton.
The local Dickens club, Menton.

 

These photographs have been taken with a Bronica RF 65/4 Zenzanon lens.