Category Archives: Photography

Signs of Life

Thoughts on “Signs of Life” by Peter Sekaer

            Peter Sekaer was an objective viewer, yet at the same time you can tell that he was sincerely engaged with the scenes he captured and concerned with the contents of the frame beyond just an aesthetic level.  Right away I was struck by Sekaer’s sense of humor and playfulness.  One of the first images your eyes are drawn to is a phallic hand-painted ice cream sign from Bowling Green, Virginia in 1935.  The next photo is from Canton, Michigan in 1936 and contains a cluttered wall of hanging items that vaguely resemble vaginas.  Sekaer had a knack for finding naturally absurd subjects and juxtapositions.  A photo of Times Square from 1935 focuses on a statue of a war hero covered by a sheet with many glitzy advertisements and billboards filling the background.  He could encapsulate entire personalities and conversations in just one frame.   When I looked at these photos, I smirked.  Other photos in the collection, however, were not so light-hearted.

            The series of photographs depicting slum life are not only powerful in terms of social class and race awareness; they are also excellent showcases of good formal technique. Peter Sekaer is an expert framer of photographs.  The rule of thirds is present in almost every single image whether it’s a high angle view of landscape, long shot of a building, or a medium shot of a group of people.  Signs often overshadow or loom above people, which alludes to the subjugated way of life experienced by those in the slums.  Words as art objects is a main concept in this collection.  This is especially the case in a photo from New York in 1934-36: the people are so tiny in comparison to the large painted words, WAREHOUSE, on the building behind them and the dots on the building form an intimidating grid.  The photographer achieves a sense of depth in some of the photos by using the street as a diagonal line in the middle of the frame.  The view created is one looking down into the building-lined street to the vanishing point.

          Even if Sekaer is photographing a seemingly mundane subject such as the front of a building, he frames the edges, lines, windows, etc. in such a way as to bring personality and movement.  As a viewer you are not just looking at a café sign, you are looking at a small vignette of that area’s culture.  Everything is in deep focus so you can absorb the patterns of the paint and wood grain.  The images are all very honest and usually gritty.  There are no abstract extreme close-ups in the entire collection.  The only photos that are not completely in focus are the few portraits of individuals, in which the backgrounds are left blurry so you are not distracted from the main subject.

          Three photographs in the collection stood out from the rest.  The first is of a woman in Corpus Christi standing in front of a large black hole that is actually a doorframe.  The second image is of a farmer’s upper body reaching out of the pitch-black window hole to turn on a light switch located outside on the barn.  The third image is of a man on a vehicle.  His face is shaded, and all you can see clearly of him are his muscles. You can, however, read very clearly the sign on the car: “Frederick Snare Corporation.”  His identity is lost as he becomes a representative of all laborers everywhere.  The use of contrast between pitch black and lighter tones in all three photos causes the viewer to sympathize with the subjects and be proud of them as hard workers who are probably “pulling themselves up from their bootstraps.”  If the entire frame were in low-key lighting, these images would be more somber.  Instead, the viewer does feel various emotions on behalf of the subjects, but also respects their dignity.

Bowling Green, Virginia ca. 1935

I definitely recommend checking this out.  It’s at the International Center for Photography.  Bank of America customers get in for free on weekends!

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Line Dancing for Breast Cancer

Below you’ll find my documentary photo essay.  It was the second annual Line Dance for the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer. What a hoot!  It’s great to see a group of regular people get together for a cause, even if the turn-out wasn’t as large as they hoped.  They wanted the line dancing to stretch down the street and over the bridge to Albany.  Unfortunately this did not happen.  Despite this, everyone remained in good spirits and all walks of life came out to support the cause.   After, the Fort Crailo Yankee Doodle band played followed by a performance from a local Patsy Cline impersonator.

The essay was created sans audio, but I added, “I Like It, I Love It,” by Tim McGraw, which was played during the main line-dancing event.  Please feel free to experience this piece both with and without audio.

This second documentary photo essay was my first attempt.  It’s “fun” but, in my opinion, not as formally acceptable with regards to image quality or framing.  In case you were wondering, songs composed by the critically acclaimed hip-hop/dance-pop artist Pitbull make up a majority of the set lists in upstate New York Zumba classes.  [I had taken an audio recording of the actual event and will repost once I have access to a computer running Windows.]  This was “Zumbathon” as part of a larger benefit event to help the farmers who were affected by the recent tropical storm Irene.  Again, the turn-out was not as desired, but we danced for three hours in the name of charity anyway!

Photoshop Phun

Connie Converse reads leisurely atop a parking structure as someone drives off in her VW bug that she sold to them for next to nothing. The Egg gets artistically vandalized as a giant toddler who travels by killer whale becomes the Albany’s biggest villain.

Lighting Exercises with My Neighbor Totoro (and Family)

Last picture added to show “flat lighting.”

Photos I Don’t Like

#1

I think this photo is pretty self-explanatory in regards to why I do not like it.  This is a photo of Michael Skok, a gentleman who ran for President in 2008 in the New Hampshire primary.  He believes in putting a base on Mars.  Michael Skok managed to get 8 votes.  Even apart from the backstory of this photo, technically speaking this is terrible.  The overhead florescent lighting is not flattering in the least and it looks incredibly amateur considering this was a photo used in his campaign.  Also, the framing has no rhyme or reason to it.  There is nothing visually pleasing about this photograph.

#2

This picture has no focal point or meaning.  It is one in a series of “party shots” with no real goal or anything else to convey.  The horizon is slanted, which does denote some sense of disorder, but the content in the picture is pretty tame.  I am guessing that the photographer did not take a crooked picture on purpose.  Sometimes someone will take a bad photo but the content is amusing or funny or important enough where the viewer can forgive the quality.  This is not the case here.

#3

This photo is disturbing.  I do not like it in the sense that I find it hard to look at for more than a few seconds.  The part that disturbs me the most is that the coffin is balanced on an armchair.  Even though this is a still image, I feel as if the baby in the coffin is going to lurch forward.  This is a photo used in “Wisconsin Death Trip” a book (and movie) about small town Wisconsin life in the late 19th century.  The collection of photos is fascinating but awful to look at.

#4

This was taken by Marc Paeps from Belgium.  I found it while searching for an example of a photo that I think is hard to look at because it is grotesque, pretentious, and staged.  I know that there is a place in this world for this kind of photography, but I am not a fan of it.  Perhaps if I saw it in a series/gallery I would get a sense of some kind of overarching idea or theme, but on its own I don’t get anything out of it.  It could be argued that all the photographer wants is to evoke and emotional response, and in that case he has succeeded.

#5

The biggest reason I do not like this photo is that it looks completely set up and phony.  It is an attempt at being “artsy” but does not seem to have any measure of authenticity.  The framing of the shot isn’t “bad” – in fact, it’s almost too “perfect.”  This photo reminds me of one of those cheesy pictures found in a generic college’s brochure about their study abroad program.  Frankly, it’s boring.  I found it on someone’s photography blog.

Photos I Like

#1

Mora

Not only is this baby adorable, but she is wearing an amazing Aretha Franklin-like headpiece.  She is also my niece, Mora Jane.  Thus, I am probably bias for liking this photo.

However, objectively speaking, I enjoy the crispness and brightness of the image. I believe it was taken by my brother-in-law who dabbles in photography now and then.  I love that the background is out of focus so you can see the detail in Mora’s face.  You can even see very distinctly her long eyelashes.  This is the kind of photo that would come inside a frame you might buy at a department store.  Her expression tells me that at that moment she was bemused but happy.  All in all, a very pleasing photo.  I would even venture to say that if you have two eyes and a heart, you can’t help but smile when looking at it.

#2

by Alvin Langdon Coburn

This is a portrait of Ezra Pound taken by Alvin Langdon Coburn.  I first encountered this image in the NYU Bobst library where I used to work in the stacks.  It is featured in the beginning pages of The Selected Poems of Ezra Pound.  I like this photo because Alvin captured Ezra’s essence; more specifically, the essence I have assigned to Ezra Pound from my own reading of his works.  He is looking off in the distance, no doubt composing some sestina or another in his head.  The framing is perfect for this portrait. The collar of the jacket/robe that is shown almost makes Ezra seem like royalty, yet his far-off sad stare and serious mouth scream poet…as does the unkempt hair that fits just inside the frame.  I could stare similarly at this photo for hours.

#3

by Bill Owens

This is a photo by Bill Owens.  I don’t remember where I saw this for the first time, but I definitely love it.  The enormity of the American flag hovering over this suburban parade says it all.  I think I especially like it because the woman reminds me of where I grew up .  She looks just like someone who used to walk in our parades.  Everyone is headed right toward the viewer.  It’s just a group of neighbors forming a “parade” in their own neighborhood, which you can tell by the residential buildings in the background.  The subjects in the photo do not seemed posed to staged, as they are in mid-march, as if the photographer ran in front of the parade and took a quick picture.  I like the sincerity of the suburban lifestyle expressed here, which is both eery and comforting at once.

#4

by Nan Goldin

This is one of the least brutal photographs I’ve seen by Nan Goldin.  With the man in the foreground and the woman almost hiding in the back, you can tell a lot about their relationship.  The man is almost glowing in the light while she is a dark figure with only part of her face showing.  The power is all his.  I don’t necessarily like “that” part of the photograph, but it is visually pleasing and very relatable.  The soft light – most likely through a window – casts just enough light to bring your attention to their two faces.  There’s so much story you can get from this image, even without knowing anything about Nan.  I tend to like photographs with this warm orangey tint.

#5

by Mikhael Jorgensen of Wilco

This is a photo found on the band Wilco’s Facebook page.  It was taken by the lead pianist and keyboardist, Mikhail Jorgensen in Montgomery, Alabama.  What I like most about this photo is the contrast between the dark shadow of the statue and the brightest blue. This would be a great album cover.  I like that the viewer has to really try to decipher whether the figures on the statue are a part of the statue or if they are real people.  I like photos that cause you to stare, and then look away, and then stare again because you have to think about what is actually being represented in the frame.