Sunday, April 28, 2013

A new Dreamscape - Pursued by the Sky Hose

...from a photographer's notebook

Detail from 'Pursued by the Sky Hose'      ©Steve Ember

Now, why am I flashing back to the deliciously evil sound Anthony Hopkins makes after Hannibal Lecter tells Clarice, "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?" 

Perhaps the whoooshh of the Great Cosmic Hoover would be more apropos?

Ah, well, I shall leave you to supply your own sound pattern to my latest "Dreamscape."

If you follow my work, you know that most of my aviation images are more "literal." But in looking at some slides taken at the Flying Circus Aerodrome several years ago, I came upon a shot taken at sunset, as the last Stearman PT-17 biplane was heading off to its home hangar.

As I sometimes do in the wee hours, I summoned up my "Digital Genie" from her bottle and asked, "Genie Dear, what do you suppose it would look like if a great cosmic wormhole were to materialize out of that calm summer sunset...and give chase to that unsuspecting barnstorming pilot?" 

"What then?" as Peter's grandfather sternly admonishes, when the lad decides to venture into the Wolf's territory. *

If you'd like to see the complete image, please click on this link.

"Pursued by the Sky Hose" will be available soon in archival gallery prints and may also be ordered as a custom printed note card. For more information, please contact me at the e-mail address in the right hand column.

©2013 Steve Ember

* Basil Rathbone in Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" (my first Columbia Masterworks album) - Been scared of Leopold Stokowski ever since ;-)

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

An irresistible smile on a Canadian autumn afternoon

  ...from a photographer's notebook

If you follow my work, you know that portraits of children are not at the top of my credit list. Ah, but sometimes circumstances conspire, and I actually enjoy the activity.

This is Rachel.

She is probably now a very comely young Canadian lass (I took the photo in 1999), with lots of beaux hoping for a coquettish smile. 

I encountered Rachel on a playground in Memorial Park in Chase, British Columbia. I’d stopped in Chase to stretch, on the long drive from Kamloops in central B.C. to my destination, Moraine Lake in the Rockies, on a trip planned to catch the changing autumn colors of the Lyall’s Larches in Larch Valley, high above the turquoise lake.

The South Thompson River runs through Chase, and the Canadian Pacific Railway runs along the South Thompson…and I heard some heavy diesels approaching. Need I say more? I mounted the 75-300 mm image stabilized lens on my trusty Canon EOS-1, ooched the ISO on the Fujichrome 100 I’d just loaded up to 400, and sallied forth to nail me some bright red CPR diesels in the trees across the river.

Then, I saw Rachel on the jungle gym, there in the park. I was absolutely charmed by her impish smile and her unaffected ease with the camera bedecked visitor. An irresistibly photogenic subject, she was playing under the watchful eye of her grandmother. After asking grandmother’s permission, I set about capturing Rachel on film. Well, really it was Rachel who made the photos – I just kept composing and pressing the button ;-)

Fearing the moment might be fleeting for turning from trains to little Rachel, I kept the "heavy artillery" in place. What really impressed and inspired me was Rachel's absolute unconcern at the big black somewhat noisy machine aimed at her at fairly close range, as I was using the lens at its shortest setting. An EOS-1 with a motor drive booster attached and a long zoom lens could be intimidating to some subjects - Didn't faze little Rachel one little bit ;-)

I do not recall Rachel saying very much as I clicked away. I think she just preferred to speak with her pretty blue eyes.

Well, the lab was careful, and the Fujichrome 100 performed most gracefully in being pushed two stops…and I must say, I loved the results of the photos little Rachel made for me.

Ten years later (as these things often play out), I rediscovered my Rachel moments, after finally purchasing my Nikon scanner, so I could integrate my film images into a digital workflow, and four years later still, I offer you Rachel’s impish grin.

Does this mean I need an assistant to file my images more efficiently? Aw, heck, Rachel’s smile is timeless. I hope you find it as contagious as I do.

©2013 Steve Ember

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

“Die Katze ist auf die Mauer gesprungen” Redux

   ...from a photographer's notebook

In this age of “branding” everything – and I hasten to say we are not talking about what is done with hot irons on cattle ranches to those poor little “dogies,” but rather the catchy little names that must be invented for product lines to ensure commercial success – I think I’ve come up with something for a series of photos that insist upon making themselves whenever I’m in Europe with my cameras (as though there is ever a time I’m in Europe but not with the cameras).

Holy Agfachrome, Batman, did I write that 5-1/2 line sentence? Did you even get through it?

I guess I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do, eh Lucy?

In July 2010, I wrote in these rambles about a photograph I took of a cute little tabby cat in Bad Mergentheim, Germany, who had scrambled across a cobblestone street in the town, jumped up on a wall, and prettily posed for the visiting camera-toting American…and how the moment immediately caused a quirky little college German phrase to spring from the dusty dendrites of my gray matter to the lips, as though learning it were yesterday rather than decades past. The phrase was, “Die Katze ist auf die Mauer gesprungen” – the cat has jumped on the wall – which, of course, I blurted out to a German photographer friend who was with me, to the amusement of all within earshot.

Die Katze ist auf die Mauer gesprungen!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my two “Katze/Mauer“ photos from that German trip in 2008 were to become progenitors of  so many other enjoyable kitty-photo-ops on subsequent Europe trips.

Of course, I am always on the lookout  for a comely kitty as I prowl about mit die Kameras, and that does include looking downward, as well as across or upward to walls, but some of my favorite European kitty-pix have turned out to be of kitties on stone walls.

Beatrice shows me Lenz
That realization jumped out at me this week, as I was editing some photos I took in 2011 in the village of Lenz (or Lantsch, as it’s called in Romantsch, an ancient language spoken in Switzerland’s Canton Graubünden). I was there with my Bündner friends Beatrice and Ruedi, who have family in the village. Beatrice, who is also a photographer, was taking me around this picturesque village, surrounded by rich green Alpine meadows on a day that featured the most wonderful late afternoon sunlight casting magnificent long shadows on the verdant greens.

Lenz/Lantsch has a lovely, and very old, church, St Mary’s, that sits above the village. Beatrice knew I’d find it a wonderful motif for photography as well as for capturing wide views of those shadows on the meadow. As we were returning from the church, we walked along a stone wall beside the path, the top surface being perhaps four feet off the ground. And there, in the warm early autumn sunshine, was “Camo-Cat” the village calico. Well, I decided her name was “Camo-Cat” as she blended so nicely into the foliage, her eyes nicely picking up the surrounding rich greens.
Camo-Cat (auf die Mauer, natürlich!)

I take it as a matter of great personal pride and consider it something of an honor that most kitties (who I find are superb judges of character!) consider me a friend, usually immediately. I realize, of course, that when I attempt conversation in Katze, it is with an identifiable Amerikaner accent, but it doesn’t seem to bother them in the least...

Indeed Camo-Cat was so comfortable in my presence that she proceeded to stretch out on the sun-warmed stone wall and let me get very close with a camera.

Is that a purposeful walk, or what?
On that same visit to Switzerland, Ruedi, Beatrice, and I stopped for lunch in the rustic old village of St Martin in the wildromantisch Calfeisental region of Canton Sankt Gallen. 

We were dining on the Restaurant St Martin’s outdoor terrace, and as we ate, an attractive black and white kitty came strutting, just as matter-of-factly as you please, along a - well not quite a wall, but a railing alongside our table. Time for one quick click with the little point-and-shoot before she ambled by with catlike tread! She was walking with purpose and I can only think she was on a mission of some kind...

One of my favorite Katze/Mauer photos was made in the farm village of Zillis in the Via Mala region of Canton Graubünden, a year earlier.

I realize I’ve been referring to all these photo-kitties as she. I suppose I have an at least 50% chance of being correct, but most have struck me as girls (or ladies). And, truth to tell, while most of these kitties were absolutely willing subjects, I’m not at all sure they would have cared for a visitor getting too “clinical” in verifying their gender…

Anyhow, this little kitty with her dainty white gloves struck a coquettish pose as she looked down at the camera-guy from her perch high on a stone wall. I haven’t given her a name just yet, as the title “Cattitude” seemed to say it all.

I did think she had that “je ne sais quoi” to make her a pin-up girl for my Euro-Kitties Calendar (just in the design-study stage for now but I rather enjoyed making the cover layout – with apologies to those more fluent in German than I). In that setting she would be known to her admirers as Zillis Bauernhof Kitty (Zillis Farm Kitty).

Please excuse any clumsy German. As Dean Martin was fond of saying,
 havin' a little fun here, folks!"

I know that, lurking within my many files of yet-unedited images from prowling about the cobblestones, there are likely more Katze/Mauer images, which I will hope to share at some point. For now, happy Springtime, purrs ‘n’ gurgles, and think about making a sweet shelter kitty a part of your life.

I did. Mewer sends his best.

©2013 Steve Ember

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Sentimental Tug of Two Icons

     ...from a photographer's notebook

I just had to do this one. Call me sentimental. Oh, you already have …

If you’re a regular visitor to this space, I suspect you’ve called me that, more times than you have fingers and toes. That’s all right. I carry that particular ID card proudly.

In fact as I write this, I think of Henry Fonda in “Advise and Consent.” He plays Robert A. Leffingwell, the President’s choice for Secretary of State and has been accused by a senator who opposes the nomination of being too much of an intellectual, an “egghead.” To which Fonda replies, I'm not only an egghead, Senator, I'm a premeditated egghead. I set out to become an egghead and at this moment I'm in full flower of eggheadedness, and I hope to shed pollen wherever I go.” 

There, consider yourself warned, for at this moment I am in full flower of sentimentality…

I’ve often written how a certain photograph just called out to be made…or could not not get made. This is one that just kinda…made itself.

In a previous post, I wrote about purchasing a re-conditioned and modified Kodak Brownie Hawkeye box camera, the magical little machine that got me into photography as a kid in the mid-fifties.

I did a broadcast piece on this sentimental journey. The idea was to describe what “point-and-shoot” photography was all about long before digital, auto-everything, and phones that “double” as cameras, as well as the shooting I planned to do with my “new” Brownie.

As the feature would also appear on the web site of my broadcast organization, I set out to illustrate it with some photos of my little Brownie with its iconic mid-20th century lines and big round flash reflector.

I shot “still lifes” of it, surrounded by rolls of film I set out on my desk. Even took some “selfies” with me holding my little black Bakelite time traveler.

But as to that photo up top making itself…

On my desk there is a photo I took many years ago of the mighty and magnificent Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 electric locomotive blazing down a mainline in the railroad’s namesake state. This was a very special afternoon, as the mighty “G’s” which ushered in the age of high speed trains along the Northeast Corridor, back when the “Pennsy” was known as The Standard Railroad of the World, were soon to be retired. Amtrak and the Penn Central (successor to the Pennsy) truly uglified the GG-1s they inherited, painted them drab black, let ‘em get all scabby and rusty. Of course, there is only so much the Philistines of this world can do to the timeless Art Deco design Raymond Loewy gave the mighty “G.” But trust me, most of the remaining fleet looked rather forlorn.

Ah, but No. 4935 remained a proud example of the breed. She wore her original Pennsy livery, gold pin stripes on that dark Brunswick Green, and she ran like a jaguar.

Now, that livery – and indeed the GG-1 itself – exert quite a sentimental attraction on me. Many a fifties afternoon was spent at and around Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station with my Dad and – I know, you’ve already guessed it – my (original) Brownie Hawkeye, loaded with Kodak Verichrome Pan black and white film, capturing the mighty GG-1s pulling the “Congressionals” and other express trains that sped between Washington and New York.

And even more magical were the times when Mom and Dad would take me to New York. We were loyal to both the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s superb “Royal Blue” trains and the speedier “Afternoon Congressional” on the Pennsy, which was pulled by a big muscular GG-1. Actually the “Congressionals” were pulled by Tuscan Red G’s to match the Pennsy red stripe that ran along the sleek consist of stainless steel coaches, Pullmans, and dining cars with real linen and silverware. But they all had those pin stripes running along their flanks…and it’s of course a moot point in black and white!

The G’s actually came along in the nineteen thirties, but the Pennsy built them to last, the truth of that being forty- and fifty-year old “G’s” still running when the end finally came. And, as mentioned Loewy’s design was genuinely timeless. So, the fact was, the GG-1 was very much an icon of the Fifties.

And that photo of No. 4935 on my desk in such close proximity to the still lifes I was shooting of the Brownie certainly got the old sentimentality going in, as a GG-1 driver might say, Notch-22.

And that’s the story of “The Sentimental Tug of Two Icons."

Ah, I think I’m feeling another tug in the direction of my music library. I just might return with Nelson Riddle’s “Lisbon Antigua.” Or the Platters singing “Twilight Time.” Or anything by Gogi Grant…

©2013 Steve Ember

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Belated Happy Easter (from Thumper, the Easter Bunny)

...from a photographer's notebook

  Detail from "Welcome to Thumper's Lounge and Nightclub"                                       ©2013 Steve Ember

Perhaps a bit different from images I typically share here, but I found this motif irresistible. It has to do with loving the distinctive neighborhood cultures of my old hometown of Baltimore. I enjoy getting back there whenever possible, for its rich variety of photographic possibilities, among other attractions.

It also has to do with the fact that I saw this place for the very first time on Easter Sunday and I’ve always thought “Thumper” was a great name for the Easter Bunny

After an exciting afternoon of shooting around the impressive CSX Coal Transloading facility at Curtis Bay in some great late afternoon winter-type sunshine, the unexpected sighting of Thumper’s immediately suggested a quick stop with the cameras before heading for a vantage point for photographing the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Outer Harbor.

Thumper’s Lounge and Nightclub is on Curtis Avenue in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood of Curtis Bay, a mainly industrial/railroad/maritime section of Baltimore. Very much a working class community, with some obvious, often playful, manifestations of civic pride. Nuthin’ fancy here, Hon. Just daown-haome Bawlamer, wifout any-o-dem-dere frills. (By the way, outtataowners, yew’ve just had a llesson in Bawlamerese. More can be found here and here.)

Sure, Baltimore has its upscale jewels, like the Inner Harbor, but the “real” city can be found in its many blue collar neighborhoods, often close by the city’s industrial areas. Not sure the concierge staffs at those high rise hotels along the Inner Harbor waterfront would make a point of sending out-of-town guests over to Thumper’s in “Curtis on the Bay,” but nor am I exactly sure that the clientele at Thumper’s would feel any great loss at the absence of such a taxi-borne influx from downtown.

Just speculation of course, and should you get over this way, look me up, and maybe we can make a night of it at ol’ Thumper’s joint.

©2013 Steve Ember

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