Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween - Reap responsibly!

...from a (spooky) photographer's notebook

In Piccadilly one night
A bit of a fright
But just for a moment, I s’pose

For rather than grim,
This Reaper was jolly
And happy to strike a pose

His smile was so toothy
His manner so bright
‘Til I took note of the hole in place of a nose!

I sought to escape
A Tube station was near
But “Believe it or not,”
As Ripley would say,
He started a dialog terribly queer…

He asked about f/stops
Depth of focus and such
And whether I shot film or digital

He spoke of a graveyard
He was planning to visit
After downing a pint at the pub
And queried me as to whether my flash
Could capture the swing of his club

I knew from the way this bizarre chat was heading
That elsewhere I should myself  hie
But in parting I said ‘taint a club, ‘tis a sickle
And be careful, dear lad, for my name’s Travis Bickle.

©2014 Steve Ember 

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Our Tenth Anniversary...

...isn't in rich, are we a pair?

Mewer came home with me from the Friends of Homeless Animals shelter in Aldie, Virginia two Sundays before Halloween, 2004, after adopting me there a week earlier. So, by my calculations, today is our tenth anniversary.

In the bay window of Mewer Manor
The event followed a close to two year period of being cat-less after losing my sweet little pal Rumpkins in late 2002.

I finally knew it was time to start looking for a new furry companion when I found myself actually stopping in the supermarket to look at...boxes of cat food. I'd just been bypassing the pet food aisle all the while, until one evening, when I was stopped in my tracks by one of those great Purina Cat Chow box photos of a cat lovingly interacting with his human.

The cat in the photo was gray and white, looked to be a young male and he was nose to nose with a most attractive brunette. They were obviously enjoying each other's company. I'd have gladly taken both home!

So, the cosmic message that it was time to find another little furry sidekick having been delivered by that supermarket serendipity, the process began on the computer with lots of looking at profiles and photos of kitties looking for a new forever-home.

Mewer’s winning photo and enticingly written "bio" told me he and I were a very likely match.  I went out to see him and found we were, so on to the application.  Once approved, I would drive out the following week and take him home.

On finding some long-lost photos of my little boy… 

Normally, I'm careful to share only my best images in the uncharted wilds of cyberspace, but here I'll make a rare exception.

In 2004, I had only a fairly basic digital camera, a little Pentax point-and-shoot, but I thought it would be less intimidating than breaking out my heavy artillery EOS-1 film SLR in taking some “first pictures” of Mewer, who, on that first evening at least, seemed a bit timid in his new digs.

Now, those first Mewer-pics were not great art, but they certainly were special, as they documented Mewer’s transition from timid…to relaxed…to “in my face.”

All in, oh, just a couple of hours.

The first indication I had that Mewer-and-Me would be a great pairing was in my studio.  I was introducing him to his new surroundings, after making sure he knew where his bathroom was. That is on the lower level of my house, as is my studio.  So after determining he liked my choice of cat litter, I invited my “little boy” into the studio, where I had some work to do.

I was auditioning a new recording.  It was one of the more dramatic Shostakovich symphonies, the Eighth.  As the music was ramping up with Slavic fury – at pretty much concert hall level I had a momentary flash of caution: Might this be too unsettling for my new housemate, so soon after bringing him home?   I mean Shostakovich isn’t your basic new age wind chime sonata, if you catch my drift. So I look around to see if Mewer had maybe split to find a hiding place away from the onslaught of the thundering symphony orchestra being pushed by a hundred or so watts per channel into my big monitor speakers.

Then I look behind me and see he is all curled up on the chair in front of my mixing console.  Guess Mewer digs Shostie…

"Oh, yeah, think I'm gonna like it here." (Check out those chompers!)

Now this is, of course, a good harbinger of compatibility, as, in addition to enjoying some fairly forceful symphonic music, I’m into a fair number of movies that might just include a wee car chase…or a big ol’ explosion or five. And my audio system for that application also has a big powerful amplifier pushing some large speakers to, shall we say, realistic levels.

So, not only does Mewer curl up in my studio chair, in line with the Shostakovich onslaught; but later, as I’m working at my desk, he decides bonding with his new human pal should include jumping up on top of daddy’s desk.  Can you say “irresistible?”  

Mewerism No.1: "Any place I plop my furry little bummy is home."

Of course, the little Pentax must be at hand for some basic grab shots of my big new kitty strutting about my desktop, stretching out atop my papers, mistaking my water glass for a finger bowl in his ritzy new digs…and stretching out to watch Jay Leonhart’s “The Bass Lesson” which I’m playing on my laptop computer.

Now, when a computer goes hiccup, the photos stored on it might just go “poof.”

Those first shots of Mewer were stashed on a laptop that had such a hiccup a few years later. Yep, p-o-o-o-f.  Like they never existed.

Well, I was sure I must have saved those shots…somewhere they’d be lurking on some un-labeled CD or other.  But they were elusive, and, truth to tell, I’ve done any number of technically superior photos of Mewer since that first evening together in ’04, so I can’t say there was an obsessive quest to find them.

"So, am I as handsome as my shelter pic or what?"
Cut to this month.  I’m going through an old pile of stuff and come upon some inkjet prints, tucked inside an old magazine.  They’re not even on photo paper, as in 2004, I was not yet seriously into printing my own images.  But there’s the pic of Mewer on the studio chair…and on my desk…and, yes, looking at his shelter photo – the one that attracted me to him on the FOHA website – on my laptop! It’s not too sharp, as Mewer was in the process of ambling over to look at the kitty in the laptop and got too close for the camera to focus properly. But, what can I say, the pic is sorta special.

So I plop the non-photo-paper sheet with its four Mewer-pics on to my scanner and make a file from which I can (sorta!) salvage – and this time save – these special images.

As I say, not great art, but keepsakes I’m glad to have had another chance to enjoy. Thanks for letting me share them on our anniversary.

Mewer is now either thirteen or fourteen years old. The shelter said he was about three; his vet took him to be about four. Incidentally, one of the things that attracted me to Mewer besides his sweet funny face and engaging personality was his broad tomcat chops, which the doc explained was the result of his getting "snipped" well into adulthood (at least, it got him off the mean streets and into a safe shelter so we could find each other!) Well, 13, 14...hardly matters. As I tell folks, he's just a big overgrown kitten.

Exhausted after entering  his many engagements in his Day-Timers, Mewer chills to the dulcet tones of the Cookie Monster (from the 2004 "Mewer Desktop Collection")

Ain’t he handsome?

©2014 Steve Ember

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Roberta Roller...What?

   (or Rabbit Redux)
     ...from a photographer's notebook

Sometimes a photo taken a while back will jump out and tickle the funny bone. That usually happens when some little detail in the composition not previously noticed…gets noticed, often with whimsical glee.

I suppose you’d have to know my whimsically warped sense of humor, which can put that funny bone into an “easily-tickled” state, but…

I wrote last time about exploring Duane Street in New York’s Tribeca, on a delightful late spring afternoon in 2013, including a reference to how the name of this attractive boutique brought forth a smile, as I imagined bunnies on roller skates scooting across the cobblestones in the late afternoon sun.

In illustrating that story, I used the photo above (you may see it in higher definition here). It was my favorite of the many I shot of Roberta Roller Rabbit, as I especially liked the foreground interest of the bicycle with basket tethered to the sign post, as well as the fact it showed the neighboring shop, Mondo Cane, also mentioned in the narrative for the musical association the name evoked.

So, there I was the other night, looking at the photo again as I prepared to upload it to my Foto-Community pages and, suddenly, instead of furry little bunnies on roller skates scooting about on Duane Street, perhaps stopping to munch on the greenery in Duane Park, I see another unlikely but, to me at least, equally smile-inducing scenario…as I notice that little detail not previously seen – the one letter covered (only in this particular shot of Roberta Roller Rabbit!) by the red parking sign.

Well, if there were travellin’ preachers in the Wild West that rode their horses from one town to the next to tend to their faithful, why not, in crowded Manhattan, a corps of highly mobile female…rabbis, also getting around on ball bearing footwear (or would it be bicycles?)one of them headquartered right here in Tribeca!

OK, so I’m easily amused…but this photo, in addition to calling up my ever so enjoyable introduction to Tribeca – for reasons known only to my wicked little funny bone (and you, of course) – still makes me smile!

©2014 Steve Ember

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Duane Street, you delight!

from a photographer's notebook...

Duane Street, in the special sunshine of a Tribeca afternoon...

I wrote earlier about some of the delights of discovering Tribeca in June of 2013.

This section of Lower Manhattan proved rich in all manner of photographic motifs, both color and black and white.

Whether in architectural detail, the human element, or some wonderful patterns of light, Tribeca was a feast for the senses – and most certainly the cameras, including the two film SLRs in my pack.

When discovering new areas, especially when they are as motif-rich as Tribeca, I often prefer to concentrate on small slices. It gives me the chance to relax, visualize, and drink in the ambiance. 

Even the pigeons cast long shadows in the Tribeca late afternoon sunshine

One such “small slice” was the two block stretch of Duane Street that runs from Greenwich Street on the west to Hudson Street on the east. Just two blocks, but lots of visual inspiration. 

The Duane Park Patisserie occupies the ground floor of this Duane Street loft building  ©Steve Ember

Loft buildings, five and six stories tall with lots of ornate details, festooned with fire escapes and adorned by ironwork fronts, calling forth a history of Lower Manhattan commerce, a trattoria, a patisserie, a sushi bar, and a variety of shops and neighborhood joints, all creating this inviting mélange of textures, shapes, patterns, and long shadows in the late afternoon sun.

But, also, as New York seems to do so well in unexpected settings, a delightful little triangle of green where the street bifurcates, called Duane Park.

Oh, yes, and pigeons. Lots of pigeons

Laurie is a composer of modern music living in one of the loft buildings. She loves pigeons…and they love her right back.

Other residents smile at the photographer balancing three cameras and a tripod in the middle of the street. Some stop to chat on their way home with groceries, or a baguette tucked under an arm. Residents meet…chat…walk their dogs...ride their bikes.

Along Duane Street, Roberta Roller Rabbit brings a smile to a visiting photographer, while Mondo Cane evokes a favorite movie theme

A boutique called Roberta Roller Rabbit brings a smile as I can’t help but conjure up bunnies on roller skates traversing this mini canyon of old brick and cobblestones. And a neighboring shop, called Mondo Cane, predictably sets the needle in the ol’ Gray Matter Gramophone down on Riz Ortolani’s sensuous “More” theme from that 1963 film, as I luxuriate in the sun of this glorious June afternoon, fifty years later.

"Staple Street, Tribeca" ©2014 Steve Ember
There's a narrow canyon formed by Staple Street, which intersects with Duane, and it provides a bounty of interlocking forms and textures, including a little detail I’d not even been aware of until a year later, when I had some large exhibit prints made of my “Staple Street, Tribeca.” If you look carefully, up in the scaffolding, there’s a solitary construction worker in a hard hat at work behind a plastic sheet. (*) Guess his mates had already called it a day…

I love the quality of the late afternoon sunlight that New York provides photographers, and anyone else with eyes and sensibilities to take it in and celebrate it…the long shadows, the strong shafts of sunlight filtering through the architectural canyons that alternately delineate forms or bathe them in a luminescent glow.

It created some lovely motifs, especially for the roll of “old look” Adox CHS 50 ART I’d loaded in one of the film cameras. It’s a great afternoon for walking in the low humidity sunshine of this last day of spring. Even the little guy in the illuminated “Walk” sign along Greenwich Street seems to have a “spring” in his step.

Detail from "Duane Street Afternoon" (Adox CHS-50 ART film)

It's a great time for enjoying the warm sun, while sitting, as well, as the diners in the outdoor café at Restaurant ROC would attest. That same spot would find my appetite-stoked self just a bit later for an aperitif and some tasty pasta, before heading downtown to take the PATH train from World Trade Center over to Jersey City to savor the Lower Manhattan skyline at twilight from the promenade at Exchange Place.

(*) OK, if you couldn’t find him…look above the bridge between the two buildings .

More of my photos of Tribeca, as well as other NYC motifs, can be viewed here.

©2014 Steve Ember 

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