June 19th, 2005

Some Favorite Photos

Yesterday, masoo kindly remarked, in reference to my "real night shot" of Kim in her new thrift-store French dress, "This has got to be the best picture you ever took." While I don't agree, his compliment started me thinking about which of my photos I rank highest. So I went through the archive of the ones I've made public here on De File -- click on "Picture of the Moment: Archive" in the right sidebar if you ever want to see them all or, for now, simply click here -- looking for personal favorites. I realized that, while it would be impossible for me to pick a single image as my "best picture," I could select a few that I'm particularly fond of and explain why.

This photo predates our digital era, which began in January, 2004, by five years. Luckily I had a picture disc made when I processed the negatives back then, so it looks decent on the computer:

Aside from baby Skylar's already intense "I'm thinking hard" expression, I love the way the background balances the foreground, how the out-of-focus parts strengthen the image's power. I always think of this as a modern-day equivalent of one of those Renaissance portraits in which the subject is not sugared over, but presented in her or his psychological complexity.

Frequently, the photos I like best are ones that weren't obvious compositions, for which I had to think hard in order to see something interesting. I took this one last February in Louisville, Kentucky at the Holiday Inn I was staying at:

The left side of the image represents its foreground. It's the right side of a second-story pillar on the balcony overlooking the pool below. The right side is the background and shows a portion of the pool where one of its lights has made a ring. I'm extremely proud of this photo because a person could walk that balcony every day for a year and not see the juxtaposition it captures.

As regular readers may have discerned, I'm drawn to images that use reflections to create layers of meaning. This photo also dates from that Louisville trip:

While I would have been very happy with the image in purely aesthetic terms -- that red fire hydrant and yellow center-line stripe offset the purple shirt beautifully -- the social commentary I was able to pull off by showing this lifeless homemaker staring out the window in defiance of the sign around her neck elevates the photo into one of my special favorites. It makes me think of Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas and the Rainer Werner Fassbinder tribute to Sirk -- still not available on video, I believe -- translated into English as Fear of Fear.

One of the pleasures of my rather antiquated digital camera's limitations is that I've learned to make photos that exploit them. I'm not always happy with the slow shutter speeds and even slower reaction time between the time I press the button and the time the photo is actually taken.Yet under the right circumstances I can produce surreal images that tell a story in their departure from the conventions of realism. This one is from The Cuff, a gay bar in Seattle, and comes from my April, 2004 trip to that city. cpratt and sinnabor graciously let me accompany them to their watering hole, where I spent hours enjoying the play of colored lights on rippling flesh:

The bartender is reaching into his customer's pocket. But to what end?

I've always been a big fan of landscapes. For years, they were practically the only kind of photo I was interested in making. More recently, I've gravitated to the urban sort. Without a shift lens, however, it's difficult to create images that don't look like some tenth-grade exercise in point perspective. This picture dates from our trip to the Bay Area last July:

I love the way the west blurs into white light. What really makes this a compelling picture for me is the foreground. The position of Joel's head and his cigarette-holding fingers slows down the hectic pace of the city and, more personally, captures the meditative, "Let me think about that for a minute," dimension to his personality that I love.

On occasion, an image that means a great deal to me might not interest other people. I shot this photo from a moving car as my parents and I approached New York City last November, on the way to my sister's wedding:

While I like the extreme gloominess of the landscape and the Franz Kline-meets-Charles Sheeler quality to the structure in the foreground, the real power of this image for me derives from the knowledge that I snapped it at the precise moment when the absence of the World Trade Center towers was obscured by the support in the bottom-right corner. You see, I drove that stretch many times as a child, always tracking the Twin Towers' appearance and disappearance through the detritus of New Jersey's industrial wasteland: now you see them; now you don't. My photo, then, documents my desire to not acknowledge that this little fort-da game had been transformed into one with no da da.

Although I'm not sure how I feel about the ideological implications that emerge when a correspondence is established between the "natural" and "human" worlds, the visual echoes that result often make for arresting images:

I wouldn't like this photo as much as I do were it not for the fact that the Bean is out of focus. There's also something about the absence of dramatic contrasts, its muted midrange tones that appeals to me, perhaps because I have generally tended to prefer high-contrast images over the years. It's nice to do something different from time to time.

We photograph our daughter so much that the stream of images that we put forth here and at kdotdammit may start to blur together or, better still, seem like real-life represented as it happens, with the mediation of the camera disappearing into a suture of familiarity. That's the goal of family snapshots, I think, even if the imperfection of the majority of them -- think about those "found image" sites that display ordinary people's mistakes with the reverence accorded to art -- prevents it from being achieved. Still, it takes a lot of work to erase the evidence of work. I spent a lot of time repositioning myself, not to mention engaging with Skylar to minimize the camera's presence, before I finally got this in the frame:

Most of the time, when I'm photographing her at close range, I don't even bother to look at the viewfinder. I go by feel, content in the knowledge that I can delete the photos that don't meet my standards without having to pay to develop them. That's my favorite feature of digital cameras, as you might suspect. Anyway, I love the sincerity of this slice-of-life, even if its representation required a lot more artifice than is apparent on the surface.

As John Ashbery suggests in "Forties Flick," the art of making art is often revealed in, "knowing what important details to leave out." The compulsion to get everything in the frame, one even the best photographers are sometimes susceptible to, is one that usually results in a claustrophobic image, hemming in the viewer's eyes and mind. This photo is from a week ago, when we were frolicking in "Teletubby Bye-Bye Park.":

There was serendipity involved in its creation, since I was holding the camera so far over my head -- Kim was on a platform above me -- that I couldn't really see what was in the frame. I knew, though, that I wanted this effect, of a close-up that cuts the body off abruptly, and adjusted the zoom accordingly. I'm just lucky that the auto-focus worked properly for once. Let me add, in closing, that this particular image captivates my "dastardly" side even more than the one of her in that French dress. The light on her arms is fabulous.

What Else Do You Call It?

Robert Horry? Yes, Robert Horry. I don't care how this game turns out, he has further solidified his reputation as what the statistically challenged refer to as "clutch" play.
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    Sympathy For The Devil (Time For A Change) - Laibach - Sympathy For The Devil
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More, More, More

See, I'm not really a fan of either the Spurs or the Pistons. But I like the way both teams play. And I actually learn things that I can apply in the pick-up games I play. That was never the case with the Lakers of the Shaq era. I mean, with Horry and Billups, Tim Duncan and Ben Wallace, Tony Parker and Tayshaun Prince, Manu Ginobli and Antonio McDyess these games are like instructional videos. I do love this game when it's played like this.
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    Fieldtrip USA - Moonbabies - The Orange Billboard
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More Horry

18 points since the last second of the third quarter. And that drive to the basket just now. He can sure extend for an "old" guy! Billups just took a bad shot. Or, rather, he took it badly. Duncan is not making the plays lately. Nice swat out to Billups. He's going to drive. Duncan gets the rebound. This could go another overtime!
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    Farmer's Daughter - The Beach Boys - Surfin U.S.A. / Surfer Girl [MFSL]
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I Told You So!

How can you leave Horry open? How? I'm sorry, folks, but that's just stupid. What a performance. Maybe he'll get his sixth ring after all.
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    Leave Me Alone - New Order - Power, Corruption & Lies
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Letter From My Father

Since it's Father's Day -- thanks for the great breakfast and cookies, kdotdammit and Skylar! -- I thought I'd share something about my dad. It's hard for me to do him justice. But it might help to explain that I have literally hundreds of letters from him that read like this one, dated July 9th, 1991, from the summer between my last semester as an undergrad and my first as a Ph.D. student:

To be honest, this one is wordier than most. In tone and range of topics, though, it fits the model beautifully. I miss those letters, whose length seems to have been necessitated by the size of the paper on which they are written and an inexplicable sense on my father's part that one side of the page is enough. And I miss the standard-issue closing, "auf wiedersehen!" -- introduced while I was an exchange student in Germany -- even more. I wish I'd been a better correspondent with him in return. I know he'd like to read entries from my blog out loud to my mother. Without a high-speed internet connection, though, that's simply not going to happen. Unless, of course, I start printing out entries and sticking them in the mail. Maybe I should start doing that. Anyway, even though he won't be reading this, let me wish him a "Happy Father's Day" to match the greetings I extended over the phone earlier this evening.
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    Train from Kansas City - Neko Case - The Tigers Have Spoken
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My Dad

Nine times out of ten, my dad looks exactly like this. He always wears a shirt with a pocket. He always has his glass case -- probably the same one he had when I was a child, come to think of it -- inside it. And he's almost always wearing a somewhat silly-looking but therefore all the more endearing hat.

In this case, though, he's sporting his baseball cap commemorating his alma mater Syracuse's national championship in basketball from 2003, so any silliness is cut with a healthy does of sweet success. I love my dad.
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    Faith (Live in The Sydney Capitol Thetre 08/1981) - The Cure - Faith "Rarities 1980-1981" (Digit
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