As part of our weekend shooting series, Ed Conde and I decided to catch the Metro downtown from North Hollywood and walk the fashion district. Neither of us had made a serious “study” of the area so it seemed like a perfect place to explore. This is our usual pattern. We will discuss areas, look for something we haven’t done, and make plans. Our third amigo, Stuart, is usually involved, but he had other commitments this day. We caught the Metro Red Line down to 7th Street, Metro Center, and hopped off and started the nine (or so) blocks walk to the Fashion District.
Los Angeles suffers the same “granite canyon” effect that caused major urban center blight in so many US cities before it was noticed. There are few ground-level businesses open to the public long hours, so the occupancy of large stretches of the city are based on whether or not it is a work day and near work hours. Otherwise, they are abandoned to marginalized elements of society – Bums, drifters, homeless, and a small criminal element that preys on them frequent the streets, and their population seems large because there is no one else there. There are beautiful buildings, but not many there to admire them. The US Bank Tower is a case in point. It is the tenth largest building in America, and the tallest on the west coast. If it had huge transmitting towers on top like the buildings in Chicago and New York do, it would be in the top five. Here, the number of people headed in and out of the building who didn’t work there could probably be measured on one hand each hour.
Walking along toward our destination, there were other signs of change. Some things, like the old gentleman’s clubs (once called strip club, etc.) are on the decline. I am not a prude, but these places attract a seedy element to the area that the locals who are forced by circumstance could do without. People don’t want their children growing up thinking that the only jobs available revolve around prostitution, drugs, and criminal activity.
The other thing on the decline is the huge series of small businesses, like tailors, shoe repair shops, bakeries, butchers, and other service establishments that added so much life and vibrancy to the downtown community. They also provided local sources of many goods so that items need not travel so far to market. There are some small signs of revitalization along the way though as we saw a few building being refurbished. As a confessed fan of Saul Leiter’s street work, I delight in finding scenes like this where you can compose a deeply layered, image of reflections in the style of Saul’s work, and add a whimsical flare that I enjoy highlighting. I don’t want to be a copycat, but using some elements of a great photographer’s pantheon to inspire mine is worth the effort. Saul didn’t invent taking pictures of reflections, he added soul to it. I add whimsy….
Mannequins started to define the area as we entered the Fashion district, and reaching to find a perfect metaphor for their role was not easy at first. People who know me often here me explain “Everything in life has a bad musical metaphor”, so I frequently put ideas and thoughts to old song lyrics. The match is rarely perfect, but one has to do what one can. These “ladies” feel right in with Cindy Lauper’s music.
I don’t want to slight the guys, since there were plenty of places catering to men’s clothing needs as well. I don’t dress fancy like this often, or I would have been tempted. The prices and quality looked good. ZZ Top would approve….
My daughters looked at my pictures afterwards and homed in on this image as though it had a flashing beacon on it. I have to admit, the vendors in Santee Alley (the main thoroughfare of the Fashion District) had a bewildering variety of shoes available. For the young (and young at heart), these are the bomb…
For the ladies wanting to “step out” in a more grown-up way, there were places that catered to them. These shoes say something, but I am just not sure I want to repeat it in public….
Another fixture of the Fashion District are the “Alley Dog” stands. These large franks entwined with bacon were for sale everywhere. There would often be three stands on each side of the street in each and every block. The demand must be amazing to call for that many establishments, and there were people scarfing them down for breakfast as we walked by at 8:30 in the morning. By noon you could hardly see them due to the surrounding crowds.
There were other oddities to draw startled, confused looks out of us Ed and I. This white van that had been “customized” with markers was an example. Once I saw it I thought “Genius!”, and got a belly-laugh out of it. Another artist leaving his mark on the world.
LA is also a city that embraces “graffiti-like” murals and business signs. You see them so often it is easy to forget to look at them and remember to capture them for posterity. This may be an artistic style that one day fades and becomes difficult to find, like art deco is today. I guess the “King of LA” (Kobe Bryant) is adorning the Athletic Shoe World on the ground floor, but he could conceivably be associated with the
“Suburban Noize Records” studio upstairs. Either way, the image is fun, and hits the mark on my “whimsy” meter.
After a long walk and period of struggling to find restrooms (most public restrooms are no more as businesses straggle to keep out the homeless), we headed back to Ventura County. We walked to Los Angeles Union Station to catch the Red Line back to Universal City. We frequently stop by and shoot here because the facility is beautiful, and seemingly has some new facet to explore.
Back at Universal City, Ed had to stop for a minute and grab some shots for his “Payphone Project“. He is a dedicated street guy and almost always has his head swiveling looking for something to add to one of his many ongoing projects. It is good to have a number of irons in the fire, since it allows him to almost alway sfind something he can make progress on.
We three amigos (Ed Conde, Stuart Liddle, and I) often go shooting in the LA area on the weekends. There is enough to see that we have a choice of what we focus on each trip, and this day we decided to do a dawn shoot at Griffith Observatory, then head down to Hollywood Boulevard after things started to open and the streets became a little more lively. Ed shoots with a small fleet of Olympus Micro Four-thirds (MFT) cameras, while Stuart was carrying his Olympus E30 (since replaced with an E-M10). I was lugging a Nikon D600 full-frame, a Hasselblad 500c/m medium format rig (6×6 cm negative), a backpack full of DSLR paraphernalia, plus a large camera bag for the “Hassie” and was loaded down like a mistreated mule.
Hollywood Boulevard rarely disappoints since it is such a tourist destination. Whenever there are rubes, there will be carnies, and that show never stops. While my compadre Ed loves to shoot that scene (his flickr stream is full of wonderful street imagery), I am looking for different game. This mural of Nancy Sinatra was a perfect example. Sam Abel (et. al.) recommend finding the background, the light, and the right foreground, then waiting for some action or gesture to “appear” to complete the shot. Sam wouldn’t like this because there aren’t enough layers, but I have a good deal of fondness for the image. Merging the look, with the faint, vague memories of my Mom playing this album when I was a kid just makes this one fun for “people of a certain age”.
The next shot is of the opposing crowd waiting to cross the street. There are always people in the group to spark some interest. For me, the guy in the white with the mirrored shades on camera left totally makes this. Lost in throught, I almost missed this shot. It was made landscape, but I re-cropped it vertical because I would have had to crop everyone almost to the knees to level the image, but just lost the ankles cropping it vertically.
Some of these images were taken on the Hasselblad and have no EXIF data. For those interested, I shot this one using the “sunny 16 rule” 1/500th at f8 (this was on the shady side of the street so I was down a stop and a half). This shot of Stuart has that usual angle of a waist-level view finder that was once the norm, but it rarely seen any more. Porta 400 has incredible tones, while the medium format negative has sufficient detail to be scanned at 8K x 8K (yielding a 64MP image). If the processing and such weren’t so expensive, I would do this all of the time.
I was shooting with a long lens on my Nikon (Nikkor 70-300mm, the same one Jay Maisel uses when he shoots street), so a lot of my images are the other side of the street. Here I juxtaposed a pedestrian in front of the Scientology information center on Hollywood Boulevard. They used to have a major mothership down here, but it looks like they have scaled back compared to their historic presence. The fleet of people out front trying to drag you in to be “tested” is gone as well (at least on this day).
Two of the photographers I work with at my day job, Ed Conde and Stuart Liddle, and I came to the realization that the time we were spending at the camera club meetings was benefiting us less and less. Shooting more with encouraging, yet critical partners was much more important at this stage of development to get more “good” work under our belts. We have agreed that the Monday evenings we were spending there would be re-programmed to shooting at one of the local imagery hot spots. Situated as we are on the eastern edge of Ventura County almost directly north of Malibu, mid-way between Santa Monica in the South and the city of Ventura to the West, there are a simply amazing number of things within a half hour’s drive to shoot. This day we chose El Matador State Beach in Malibu because of the striking rocks and the angle the sun should be setting this time of year.
We had a bit of an adventure getting there due to road closures (later discovered to be caused by a landslide), but a little navigational ingenuity got us to the Pacific Coast Highway with minimal delays, and we found the parking with no problems at all. A bit pricey for the short time we would be there, but plentiful and easy to find. The one thing that I hadn’t foreseen was that while it was near 80 degrees when we left Thousand Oaks, it was 68 and breezy when we got to the beach cliffs, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Next time, I’ll pack a jacket. Stuart and I wouldn’t have made it too much longer than the time we spent due to the chill as the sun set. The path was easy to follow, but worth care because there were no railings except on the steep stairs, and a mis-step meant a long fall to the beach below down jagged rocks.
When we arrived to the level above the beach, we discovered another photographer was down on the beach with a young model shooting in the edge of the flooding tide. The young woman was starting to get a chill I’ll bet, and they quickly came up off the beach and shot a few more on the cliffs before leaving. We later discovered that the tide was coming in and the entire beach was submerged at high tide, so you needed to be out of there well before that or you would have to swim with your gear for the steps.
The good thing we discovered was that there was plenty of light left to shoot with, and the sun was low enough in the sky we could get delightful lens flare if we wanted it. Modern lenese are a marvel, and lens flare is a choice most of us make to have, or not have depending on exactly where we point the camera, and what f-stop we choose. I was channeling a little JJ Abrams, so a bit was called for, but I don’t like the over-the-top treatment some allow. The couple down on the beach walking “makes” this shot for me.
Looking into the sun was an exercise in reduced contrast, but that can be an interesting effect that can add to the scene (if not overdone). We captured a few shots like this from the top of the stairs down to the beach, then descended down to beach-level. The view from there was beautiful, with the arches in the rocks filling with a golden sunlight that looked like fire. The lower the sun got, the more pronounced this effect became.
There were some young people we met down on the beach. A quartet of college-aged deaf kids were down on the beach enjoying the scene as we arrived. They asked if we were photographers, which we acknowledged, and they were pretty much ready to leave. I did capture one of them watching the waves come in, and I referred to her in the shot as “Goth Girl” in this shot below. I liked this shot, but there were limited places to stand, and where I had to be to make this shot was right over the top of a dead and decaying sea lion between the rocks.
It wouldn’t be an outing for me if I didn’t get a shot of my compatriots, Stuart, looking dapper making a shot from his tripod with his new Olympus OM-D E-M10 (which he loves by the way)
and my other shooting buddy Ed Conde shooting with not one Oly, but two! There is something to be said for being able to shoot wide and long without having to change lenses down on a wind-swept beach with the sand and sea-foam blowing about.
Hopefully I will have more of these adventures to document as the days get longer and we do our monthly shoots.
My grandson’s pre-school teacher has a “program” where the kids take home a plush “Nemo” (from the Finding Nemo fame) for the weekend. The children are supposed to integrate Nemo into their weekend then provide a written report (dictated through their parents), told from Nemo’s point-of-view, of his weekend activities. I think this is a fine idea since children at this age have difficulty thinking from the perspective of another, and turns their description into an adventurous “story” for the class. Getting them to do something they need to do to develop, and love it as they do it. Genius! One of the things that started long before we discovered Nemo is that the stories had been embellished with images, and I took this as a challenge to record fun images of Nemo’s time with our family. I could only include a few, and have included them here. I also included a few that didn’t make the final edit….
Friday night was spent relaxing at home, watching Disney movies (he would have to approve, wouldn’t he?). Saturday though was an opportunity to head over to the mall for the pre-Thanksgiving lighting of the giant Christmas tree. Nemo couldn’t miss that, plus Mason was sure he would like Red Robin fries and a ride on the children’s train.
Sunday was quite a bit different. There was a medieval SCA-type event called the “Nottingham Festival” nearby in Simi Valley, so I hoped to have “Nemo” and Mason learn about the “simple” life lived by people long ago. This sounds interesting, and easy to keep a kids attention, but that proved not to be the case. An attention-span hacked away by interactive games and frenetic modern TV shows is difficult to keep engaged. As the lady running the wheel and I tried to explain why yarn was even made, you could see the “tl;dr” scrolling across his mind, and his eyes glaze over. He posed cutely, but was not engaged.
Searching farther for something that might draw him in, I sought out the things that have always draw the attention of the children – the performers! We found this older gentleman who had a hand-made dragon that spit water, flapped his wings, and made noises (via a noise-maker hidden in the gentleman’s pipe). Mason (and Nemo) found this character (and his dragon) uproariously funny and wanted to stay and watch this until we would be ready to leave, but there was more to see.
Eventually, Nemo went back to his home at the school, accompanied by a suitably illustrated missive documenting his journey there and back again. He is welcome to visit us again if he ever pines for our kind of adventures (or the fries from Red Robin)….
If you want to see someone honestly happy, take a close look at a child. Most of them have not had the joy flattened out of their existence by expectations and are able to be absolutely happy at the drop of a hat. I took Mason to a nearby McDonalds for a quick lunch and a half an hour in the play area. He sat excitedly eating and looking forward in anticipation of getting to play. When it was time he made a bee-line toward the shoe rack (“You know, you can’t wear your shoes inside the play area Papa”), then rushed in to join the other children running through the maze.
Psychologists tell us we obsess over too many details in our lives, and it robs us of our enjoyment of the simple things in life. Over-planning and over-thinking are a big part of it, but many of us think not about the thing in front of us, but of the wonders we are missing. Perfect truly becomes the enemy of the good, or even the great. I work with Mason to help him focus on what he has instead of what he does not have. It isn’t too hard since this is his normal operating mode. As Abraham Lincoln (and Lord Byron) said “The key to happiness is wanting what you have, not in having what you want”. I am sure he is not the first to have made that observation. Focus with gratitude on what you have right now and enjoy it for what it is and you will be happier.
Some of the focus on perfection may be part of our social-media driven world. Most people on Facebook (this applies to any social network) don’t want to be a downer, so they aren’t posting the darkest parts of their lives, and hopefully not the “boring” parts. Instead, they highlight the fun part of their day or week for us to enjoy with them. That turns their posts into a string of the best moments of their lives shared with us, their friends. There are even people who will “fake” at least some of it to be more interesting or seem more “glamorous”. Some find it hard to open FB up and daily see how everyone else’s lives seem filled with fun and excitement. I know about the phenomenon and still it gnaws at me too. For those that aren’t aware, or aren’t taking it to heart, it is surely tough. There are other effects that make social networks lonely places. While the creators of the video make some big leaps, I have to agree with most of their conclusions.
A way to fight back is to live like a child. They have imaginative play, but they live actively, rather than posturing their way through life. Their pretending is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Your playmates quickly figure out who you really are, if you are someone they want to spend more time with (or less), and it is based on your behavior rather than your circumstances. Your character, rather than your wardrobe. Sadly, this actually starts to flip after a few years of school and its accompanying social pressures, so I won’t have this wonderful example in front of me that much longer.
New things can fill us with wonder or with dread. The choice is ours, and it is strictly a matter of choice. A perfect illustration is the difference between the journals of cats and dogs. The effect exists in human dynamics as well. Mason saw the foosball table and couldn’t wait to try it out. He didn’t know what it was or how it worked, but reasoned that it must be fun since it was deliberately installed in a play area. He couldn’t figure out how the ball was brought into play, but once shown that little detail, he was on his own, delightedly playing against himself for fifteen minutes straight. When some other boys arrived he eagerly invited them to join him into his new favorite activity.
The question returns to what does it take to delight you, or at least to have a very good time? Are you one of those with such sophisticated tastes that only the most perfect of events has any hope of stirring you, or are you one of those folks whose lives are filled mainly with good, happy days? I know which camp I want to be in, and I have my guide with me as much of the time as I can manage….
My wife is in the market for a small camera, something able to focus faster than her point and shoot and her super-zoom, and a bit more more capable in lower light levels. Being the photographer in the family, I offered to help her evaluate some alternatives. She flat-out hates my full frame DSLR (a Nikon D600) and refuses to consider something that big and heavy for a number of reasons, including painful carpal-tunnel issues when wielding heavy cameras. Given the limitations and wanting something with sufficient flexibility and image quality, I wanted to look at micro four thirds cameras, specifically the Olympus E-P3 and the E-PM2. It turned out that my friend and colleague from work, Ed Conde (http://plus.google.com/103269308697845842814 and http://digitalchemicals.blogspot.com/) has a E-P3 and Sigma 60mm he is interested in selling and was willing to let my wife borrow for a few days. I let her shoot with it a bit, but she wasn’t able to get a good feel for it and she asked me to try it more and fill her in. I shot some around the house, and at a dinner out, but decided to go out with Stuart (another work buddy) and Ed for a Saturday morning outing to downtown Los Angeles and Union Station on the Red Line subway.
We met in Agoura Hills at 6:00 am and car-pooled down to the Universal City station on Lankershim and bought our $5.00 all-day passes for the Los Angeles Metro system. You can also purchase a $10.00 all-weekend pass for the Metro-Link train system that runs all of the way down to Oceanside and they are good Friday evening through Sunday night at Midnight. Sort of like a $15.00 go-anywhere in the LA area pass set (also covers the buses). Very nice…. Anyway, the ride down to Union Station was nice and peaceful. We had the car nearly to ourselves until the last few stops.
Union Station is the end-of-the-line for the Red Line, so we started exploring the terminal and waiting areas as soon as we arrived. While they won’t summarily shoot you for having a tripod, they come rather quickly if you set one up in the walkways, so we worked hand-held, or braced on a convenient railing or the floor itself when needed. The picture above was done with the camera sitting on its bottom-plate right on the floor and the shutter released by hand. The low angles also caught the beautiful symmetric reflections of the huge chandeliers in the polished stone floors.
Embracing the limitations can make the outing both more fun, and get your creative juices flowing as you work around small obstacles. While I had my D600 with me, I concentrated on using the E-P3 mainly, and shot most of these with it. One thing I notices is that the RAW files are a little thinner than I am used to, and noisier by a substantial margin. Cropping into an already noisy 12MP image meant that I had to find a way to embrace the noise in the crop of my opening image, so I settled on a moody Tri-X conversion in Silver Efex Pro 2. Add a mild vignette and burnt edges with a simple border and it looks like something I might have shot in the early 1980s.
We wanted to do a bit of shooting in the area surrounding Union Station so we headed across the street to the historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles (the old Town of Los Angeles that was once only a couple of blocks). The shops were closed at this early hour, so we collected a few images of the ancient church and the original block of shops, then headed toward China Town on foot. Chinatown is always fun due to the seemingly funny juxtaposed names found on many businesses. Who wouldn’t want to buy their lotto ticket at the “Lucky Deli”? Who know the Chinese favored delicatessens? One thing I can certify was that the front of the store was full of very unfortunate ducks. The point is that there is never an excuse to come away skunked from Chinatown. Always something new and subtle to notice, a juxtaposition to be discovered…
All three of us had early afternoon commitments so we walked back to El Pueblo (with a quick stop for breakfast at Phillipe’s) and a quick run through the now-open shopping area. There is good food, remarkably color scenery, and fascinating items to be had at the market, including this gem of a shirt:
What was my decision about the camera in the end? While the form-factor was great, the older 12MP sensor on the E-P3 was too noisy for me to be happy with it across a broad enough set of situations. I loved the shots Ed’s E-M5 got under the exact same circumstances, but the $999.00 is quite a bit more than Rita wants to spend, so we are looking at the E-PM2 next. It has the same sensor as the E-M5, minus the 5-axis stabilization. I’ll let you know once I have seen that one….
Street photography is not my “thing”, but it is for several of my friends and acquaintances. They extol the virtues of capturing people in the gritty real-life circumstances of day-to-day living. I am not a lover of this art form, but thought I would give is a shot, and going downtown to watch a presentation by another noted street photographer while we were there. Richard Bram was presenting a talk on his experiences street shooting in NY and London (NY-LON) at the Hatakeyama Gallery on Hill Street, downtown LA. This happens to be adjacent to some of the best street photography areas in DTLA, so we could step outside right after the presentation and start our adventure. One of the reasons I looked forward to going was to take the Red-line Subway from North Hollywood (where there is plenty of parking) to downtown (where there often is not). This is LA, so of course there are murals:
Once you arrive downtown, there are tall buildings (not by NYC standards, but they don’t regularly get 5+ earthquakes rattling their buildings), and there is the obligatory “find and interesting reflection so you can be like Saul Leiter” experience, but then it was time to hit the road and get walking to our destination.
One thing I love about downtown LA (DTLA) is the old theaters. They are everywhere, and many have not yet been torn down. As a teenager, I worked in a century-old theater and learned to love the amazing nooks and crannies designed and built into these buildings. Their like will probably never be seen again. This is the old “Orpheum” building. The level of detail is fantastic, and this place is old enough that Judy Garland performed here years before she was in The Wizard of Oz….
I am also a fan of patterns and shapes that have pleasing repetitions in them. This view up the stacked fire escapes has a delightful effect with complexity, simplicity, repetition and slight differences to keep me interested.
The Eastern Columbia Building is one of the last surviving examples of beautiful Art Deco architecture in Los Angeles, and is an historic landmark, seen frequently in Movies and TV shows produced in LA. I just love the color and texture of the building.
It wouldn’t be a street scene in a large city without flying rats to complete the picture. They are like flying monkeys, but not as scary. I worked a low angle with a short depth-of-field to keep it artsy.
Perhaps the funniest thing I saw all afternoon was this guy walking along with his model, shooting a still every few feet. I suspect he was going to reverse the order of the images and make a time-lapse that made it look like the tripod was moving down the LA streets.
Nancy and Jerry were my shooting companions. Here they are trying to find a way to move unseen down the alley to capture a shot of a restaurant staff eating in the alley before the dinner rush starts.
For me, I just used a longer lens….
It wouldn’t be a trip through Chinatown without a shot of some LA Chinatown landmark, like Hop Louie….
I hope you had time to get your camera out this weekend….