2012 Favorites

In mid-December Mary from All Over Albany floated the idea of running a series of posts with local photographers’ favorite photos from the year. The idea was to use them while the AOA crew took their winter break, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I sent her this one as my favorite Albany-related photo, I like how it came together and shows the public side of one of Albany’s best public spaces. I also pointed some other local photographers her way, people who I thought have great work but don’t get a lot of attention for it, and since the AOA post didn’t pan out I wanted to show what they picked too.

Empire Plaza, Albany, NY
Paul Sesink Clee

Empire Plaza, Albany, NY
Paul Sesink Clee

Paul went with these two so I figure I’ll show them both, and I remember first seeing them on flickr and especially liking the bus driver photo myself. His street work is good with a lot of interesting experimentation, and check out the Everyday Disposable series.

Daniel Meade

Daniel does a lot of instant and expired film, something I usually find gimmicky. But in his case, the images are usually stronger than the method, so instead of being mainly about the film used it adds to the final product. This one he picked of Thacher Park is a good example, it’s a great landscape no matter what was used to make it.

MAD Irish Toast Wake
Patrick Stephenson

Drinking Buddies
Patrick Stephenson

Patrick also picked two, so here you go. The first is one of the best portraits I’ve seen, and doubly interesting since we mourned the loss of the Miss Albany Diner last year. The second is a still from a short film he created, Biollante. Check it out.

D44 crossing the Hoosick River
William Gill

Will forwarded this one to me, saying:

This photo was taken this summer on Fisherman’s Lane in Schaghticoke at 3am in the middle of a thunderstorm. This is one of the last 3 locomotives remaining in the Delaware & Hudson paint scheme. With their headquarters at the base of State St in Albany and their main shops in Colonie, the D&H was railroading in the Capital District. Their first diesel locomotives were black. The lightning-stripe scheme represented the changes of the early 1960s: they no longer burned coal in steam locomotives and increasingly knew that hauling coal from PA to Albany was no longer a future. With Pennsylvanian coal out of the picture, the D&H was free to paint their locomotives in bright blue, gray, and yellow. The Delaware and Hudson was purchased by Canadian Pacific in 1991.

He posted it on his own blog too. In addition to the excellent train photos, most taken at night, he has great lifestyle/party work and knows his way around a flash.

A few other photographers I like who I referred to Mary, but haven’t heard from: James DiBianco does mainly sports and urbex, but there’s a lot of other subjects mixed in there too, the guy knows how to hustle; Andrew Wertz has a great eye for landscape and New Topographics style which I especially like; and Chris “skippmarv” who just has an insane eye for dramatic light and shadow. If any of you guys see this, I’d love to see your favorite, drop me a line.

I do regret that I didn’t single out any female photographers. I don’t see a lot of interesting work from local female photographers who don’t get a lot of exposure, but I’m pretty sure that’s my fault for not looking hard enough, I’m going to try to fix that.

Sebastien also has a 2012 favorites post up with other impressive local work, check it out.



Christmas 2012

While visiting my family for Christmas my sister returned to my brother a digital camera she borrowed. Sometime in 1998. I don’t know where they fit all the 1.6 megapixels, it’s only the size of a loaf of bread. Okay, okay, a slice of bread. A large slice.

Christmas 2012

It’s a Fuji MX-700, a very early point & shoot digital camera. It has a dial that you can set to “take a picture two seconds after you press the button” and also “timer”. Aside from a display in a museum of 20th Century technological artifacts, what can you do with such a beast? I had some fun after setting it to B&W and clearing the huge 8MB Smart Media card — it holds about 10 photos at 1024×1280, and my 134-in-1 card reader actually has a slot for it. The camera does an okay job in its own right and squinting through the viewfinder is cute. I can actually see how this would have been a good investment for taking small photos of things for sale on ebay, after faxing a photocopy of your drivers license to confirm your account, tied to your free Juno email address. That was just me? Okay.

Christmas 2012

I thought I might keep it as my own overwrought version of Instagram for B&W still lifes and vintage clothes. Turns out it has some bad pixels plus that’s a stupid idea. It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come though. Fun fact: this camera was actually rebranded as the Leica Digilux. Almost enough reason to keep it. Almost.

2012 Santa Speedo Sprint

Last weekend was the 7th annual Santa Speedo Sprint hosted by ASAP. Last I checked they’d raised over $9,000, I’m sure the final total will be much more than that. A great time for a great cause.

2012 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

2012 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

2012 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

Another overcast day making for difficult photos. I usually like what on-camera flash does on cloudy days but I wasn’t very happy with my results from the day. I did like the repetition of shapes in that photo of the two backs, though. Most of my photos, including a bunch of dragged shutter bar shots, went straight to Facebook, sorry.

Congrats to ASAP and all the runners, photos or no it was a great event and went off without a hitch. Looking forward to next year!

All Over Albany

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint
2010 Santa Speedo Sprint
2009 Santa Speedo Sprint
(have I really been doing this that long?)

2012 Troy Victorian Stroll

Victorian Stroll, Troy NY

It was overcast. very, very overcast.

Victorian Stroll, Troy NY

Between an early brunch, “caroling” at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (try to sneak into a box seat), a trip to the Confectionery wine bar, and a late night booze n’ do’s session, it was a long, overcast day.

Victorian Stroll, Troy NY

Sorry these are not terribly victorian-y photos, the costumes tend to be the least interesting part. See more in a Troy NY slideshow. I like that town.

Street Photography Ain’t Simple

A while back my friend Sebastien blogged about a foray into street photography after picking up a new camera. I took umbrage at what I saw as a gear related, throw-money-at-the-problem answer to a question that has not much to do with gear or money, resulting in a comment thread including French translation and disemvowelment. Revisiting all that is fun and I was unfair, everyone’s approach to their own work is valid right? Or maybe there is a right and wrong. Anyway, unless he is planning to be the next Vivian Maier it looks like the street bug hasn’t bitten him in a while which makes me sad.

In retrospect what really got me going was the fact that by that time I’d been practicing candid photography — trying to define “street” is like wrestling a grizzly bear covered in Crisco, you’ll never get ahold of anything and just end up worse for the effort — for a couple of years and here this French guy picks up a new camera, snaps a few frames, and suddenly has something to say about it? Kind of galling. That was unfair too, and I need to remember to focus more on making my own work and less on what others are doing. He has the same right as anyone to share his thoughts and experiences. I’m going to take advantage of that right too, and probably regret it a year or two from now.

Larkfest 2009

So this is one of my earlier attempts. I did what a lot of people do at first, faced with the terrifying prospect of actually interacting with people in public, and fired off a hipshot instead of using the viewfinder. Thankfully there was no hope of this photo being anything but terrible, but the hipshooting made it worse. lesson learned.

2009 Scott Kelby Photo Walk, Albany NY

The annual Scott Kelby Photo Walk is a thing, and I did it in 2009, with the intent of taking candids to show the people and daily life of Albany, rather than macro flower photos or something. I used a really long telephoto, and you can see how that turned out, there’s something really creepy about this photo. This one is even worse. I decided very quickly that I don’t like candid telephoto. A macro flower photo was picked for the photo walk that year.

So I played on the title of Sebastien’s post because after a couple years of doing this stuff, I think it really is easy. That is, it’s accessible, anyone can try it, there’s virtually no barrier to entry. If you are reading this you have some kind of picture taking technology and live in a society where people play out some of their lives in public. In fact this might be the most democratic of genres, because traditionally technical merits can be and often are overlooked in the case of a good photo. Flickr proved this. Don’t get me wrong, I have a spot in my heart for macro flowers too, but that requires specific, often expensive equipment and some technical knowledge and experience. For street, something with minimal shutter lag is about all I would ask for, and even that’s optional. If it’s not already I expect the iPhone to be the most popular street camera in history soon.

Balboa Park, San Diego California

So in that sense, it’s easy. And I kept working at it, carrying my big, heavy, obvious, definitely not for the street according to some camera everywhere I could, taking occasional photos like this. After a while the fear wears off, by which I mean I don’t have the excuse of hipshooting to explain what went wrong here. And I learned that while it’s easy, it’s not simple at all. It took many, many tries before I started making photos with something I liked. They’re still few and far between. Some of that is thanks to lessons learned, like that an interesting subject doesn’t necessarily make an interesting photo (in fact there’s usually an inverse relationship), and that even with a huge camera to your face most people actively try to ignore you (as in the “pick a fight” scene in Fight Club) and those who don’t almost always have something interesting to say if you just talk to them, with negative confrontations very rare. Working on this kind of photography has brought me out of my own shell, so even if I never make an excellent photo I’ve gained something. But the other side of the not simple equation is that you’re working with (or against) the full entropy of the universe. Good photos are everywhere but they can vanish as quickly as you can get the camera up. The unexpected is what you’re looking for and what ruins almost every frame. This is not a still life you can set up and shoot from fifty different angles (Weston I still love your peppers). You control only where you point the camera and when you press the button. The rest is not up to you.

Troy River Street Festival 2011

Shooting events is largely responsible for reigniting my interest in photography a few years ago, and it’s a good entry point into street. Stop shooting the parade and start shooting the crowd. Even better, the lessons you learn from that complex problem will make your photos of the parade better too. These days when I go to a street fair I take very few photos of what’s on the tables and stages, instead the people behind and around them. It’s more challenging partially because the obvious — the parade, the bent fork sculptures, the girls in tank tops hired by a promotional company — are designed to be eye catching. The other stuff is not, so you have to find what’s interesting about it.

Soapbox Derby, Albany NY

Where’s this all headed? I don’t know. I’m not ready to call myself a street photographer, but there’s a long history of folks dropping the genre after a couple of decades of work. The famous Henri Cartier-Bresson finished his days as a painter, not a photographer. Maybe if I ever get to the point where it’s not a challenge, I’ll get tired of it, the same way I became interested in it because photos of fireworks and abandoned factories are not challenging anymore. In the meantime, I’m actually getting positive feedback here and there, which is nice; this year I entered three street photos in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional and was awarded the Albany Center Gallery Board of Directors prize, for which I’m very grateful.

St. Patrick's Day 2012, Albany NY

That was one of them. I’m no Winogrand either.

Shortly after writing a draft of this, a not-Sebastien friend who takes excellent candid photos of family and friends started a conversation about street photography. It began with the telephoto issue but we covered a few other bases. I eventually summed it up as well as I could by saying that I’m part of the society and world that I’m photographing, there’s no way to separate myself from that, and I want as little distance as possible — not just physically — between me and what/who is in my photos. Well, I didn’t say it that clearly. But that approach, which I learned through an interest in street, has fully influenced all the photos I make.

Washington Park, Albany NY

Then again, Capa said “If your photos aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough” and he stepped on a land mine.

Troy, NY 12.04.2011

“Stepping on a Land Mine” would have been a good title for this because I’m sure I’m doing that.

Street photography, or at least a street “approach” (christ, if I can’t define “street” I should probably avoid phrases like that), is the only thing that convinces me to pick up the camera some days. But also, the fact that it is so not-simple, and that I still haven’t made a photo that I’m really, truly, 100% happy with, causes a monthly crisis of confidence. Following a few really great photographers on flickr doesn’t help that (though it helps a lot of other things). Mostly this style of photography is just fun as hell, and the world is so interesting even though I don’t understand it much. Making these photos is partially an attempt to figure it out.

Lake George, New York

I put together a street set on flickr, which shows me some trends in my own work. I could build bodies of work around the following subjects:

– dogs
– people getting their photo taken
– people taking photos
– people leaning on railings
– butts

Washington Park, Albany NY

At some point I’ll get all five of those in one photo and then I’ll probably quit.

That’s probably enough from me for now. There are lots of good resources out there for street photography, all of which have better photos than I do. The Hardcore Street Photography flickr group has an excellent pool, with hit-and-miss discussion. A few other good flickr groups, not all dedicated expressly to street but with a general focus on that aesthetic: La Familia Abrazada, At War With the Obvious, Sharpness is Such a Bourgeois Concept, SeriousBalloons (yes really), and Rule of Third Beers. The number of websites dedicated to street is staggering, but a few I really like are iN PUBLiC, Blake Andrews, La Pura Vida, American Suburb X, and holy crap, a lot more. Michael David Murphy doesn’t update his blog much these days but his Ways of Working series is still a great intro. If you want more web stuff and use Google Reader email me and I’ll export my 200+ feed photo folder.

There are some great books out there too, and I can’t recommend more highly the act of physically looking at prints, even in book form. Bystander is sadly out of print but as close as it comes to a history of the genre by people who know what they’re talking about. Street Photography Now includes more contemporary work with an outstanding bibliography. There are lots of how to books out there but most of them are crap by bandwagon jumpers looking to make a buck. Be careful. If you’re near any small or larger metro area local libraries can be a surprisingly good resource, find the branch that has the best photo selection and block off an hour or so to pull a couple big books down and just look at photos.

Oh, there’s some good stuff on Youtube too, try a search for Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, or Garry Winogrand for a start. And Bill Cunningham New York was a great movie! And as for that crisis of confidence thing earlier, this Ira Glass interview helps.

That’s all from me. For now.

Sundays Downtown Update

I’ve added a few more photos to my “Sundays Downtown” project.

Broadway, Albany NY

Van Tromp Street, Albany Y

Eagle Street, Albany NY

About Sundays Downtown:

Albany is the capitol of New York State, but compared to “the city that never sleeps” it’s a bit narcoleptic. Government workers fill Pearl Street, the heart of Albany’s downtown just a couple blocks east of the capitol building, on weekdays, but largely flee to the suburbs otherwise. Students fill the bars on Friday and Saturday night, and occasional events draw crowds other evenings, but otherwise the area feels deserted. Sundays epitomize this; even Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks are closed, and most pedestrians are waiting between bus transfers to and from elsewhere.

Sundays Downtown is an ongoing series of the vacant landscape of downtown Albany on Sundays.

Though apparently Starbucks has been open on this and that Sunday, I’ll have to edit. It’s all still a work in progress. You can see what there is so far in a slideshow

Another somewhat related project, “Quiet Capitol”, is going well. I had planned to show the first set of five photos in the series at the Sunspot Cafe but if you go back a bit here you’ll see why that didn’t happen. I’m still shooting and organizing these into five photo sets, and some lucky souls got artist proofs at the Historic Albany Society’s Built event. More on that later.

Bashakill Wineyard

Bashakill Vineyard

You get in a van with five or six other people at 9am. The van is brand new but the dashboard has an analog clock. As far as you know in your groggy, caffeine-deprived state, your destination is somewhere off Exit 17 of I-87. You’re not entirely sure because the website for Bashakill Wineyard still uses Mapquest.


After a few inevitable stops you arrive around noon-thirty. Nobody else is there and your party has the choice of tables to spread out the food everyone has brought. Liberties are taken arranging them around woodstoves. You all participate in the $4 tasting, with bonus wineglass. If you stick around long enough you can even take home an overlooked wineglass or four.


You cross the narrow road and spend an hour or two on the trails along the Bashakill. You’re greeted on your return by the live music that starts every Saturday at two. At three there’s a tour of the wine cave which isn’t so much of a tour since the entire cave is about as big as a conference room. A conference room full of oak barrels with a knowledgeable, heavy-lidded man explaining the minutiae of wine production.

Bashakill Vineyard

Bashakill Vineyard

For no reason other than it seems entirely appropriate there are horses. Lots of them. You admire the horses. They are stalwart companions of their riders. You may have stepped in their shit on your hike. Several hours and bottles of wine later you and your friends have all shared your food — venison cheese dip and highly noisome cheese and salt & vinegar chips — and several bottles of wine stand empty. The mood is high. The wine was delicious. You pile back into the van, not necessarily taking the seat you had before, and someone pilots you toward home. The mood is high. The sun is setting. Maybe the weekend has just begun.