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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.

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?)

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.

Tamarack Lodge

Tamarack Lodge, Greenfield Park NY

Going through the archives, I realize I’ve never posted about my 2011 visit to Tamarack lodge with Sebastien and James. It’s unfortunate that I’m posting about it now because the property sustained a massive fire in April 2012, leaving our photos a particularly morbid memory, moreso than most abandoned sites I’ve been to.

Tamarack Lodge, Greenfield Park NY

There are many news stories easily Googleable about the fire, of which this is only one. Apparently 30 structures burned, which from a firsthand visit I assume is the vast majority of the property. The new owner is charged with arson though at this time I don’t know the outcome of any litigation. Just before the fire, the Western Mohegan Nation, who claimed ownership of the land, filed for bankruptcy. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but you can Google the place yourself.

Tamarack Lodge, Greenfield Park NY

I really don’t know too much about the history of the property, though it’s square in the borscht belt, with the classic bungalows, fallen into disrepair when we visited. Tamarack is part of the history of the Catskills along with the other famous hotels, but their time has come and gone. You can read about this in other, more detailed articles, but in short the rise of quick continental and intercontinental travel doomed the Catskill vacation destinations which depended on travelers from New York City and New Jersey.

Tamarack Lodge, Greenfield Park NY

Honestly, this was just one more abandoned site I was invited along to. It was one of the more interesting, but I understand the case of the Borscht Belt and the site didn’t hold any particular significance to me until it burned. I’m most regretful for the folks who have memories of being there in its prime, who will never have the opportunity to relive that; as long as these abandoned structures stand there’s still some vague hope they can be rehabilitated.

Tamarack Lodge, Greenfield Park NY

So here are some photos of the Tamarack as it was, shortly before it was gone. But I think is this is unfair, it shows a dilapitude that ignores the site’s grand history. My brief journey on the abandoned grounds in no way conveys the joy and wonder of those who walked the halls and lawns in its prime. I’m very sorry it’s a place we cannot credit to New York now.

Tamarack Lodge, Greenfield Park NY

There are plenty of photos of the lodge online. For the short list, I suggest checking out James, Paul, and Darren‘s sets, and of course my own slideshow. If I missed you, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 marks the third year I’ve visited the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, only named the #2 Winter Carnival in the world by National Geographic. Beating out parties in Canada and Japan is pretty impressive considering the town’s population hovers around 5,000. Who knew we had a world-class event tucked away in the frigid Adirondacks? Answer: National Geographic, but now you know, too.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Each year has a theme, and this year’s was Alien Invaders. You can see a few of them above, abducting terrestrial life forms. As usual I accompanied my friends in the carnival group the Gimps, best known for never participating in the yearly theme. This time they were killer bees. As in the classic SNL skit, complete with sombreros, which raised concerns they would be interpreted as illegal aliens (they had been permanently banned from the carnival years ago for gratuitous use of “EAT ME” in an Alice on Wonderland theme). Bright yellow stripes and bee antics seemed to do the trick and there were no international incidents.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

In 2010 and 2011 I went with something of a photojournalistic angle, focusing on the parade, the costumes, the ice castle and winter events. This time I decided to use the warm welcome my extended family of Gimps gives and come at carnival in a more documentary style. You may be asking, what’s the difference between photojournalism and documentation? Well, it’s quite simple: obviously I’m just using impressive words to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Instead of staking out a spot on the parade route and shooting every float going by, I followed the swarm of killer bees to their staging area. Since they had the second to last float, this was perfect, passing by all the other groups on the mile or two walk out and making it back to the finish line about halfway through the end of the parade. Hanging out while the gimps were getting prepped was much more interesting than being roped onto the sidewalk and waiting for the parade to pass by. Maybe because they are pretty interesting. Bees on a frozen lake? Why not.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Walking back up the route, through the crowd, gave me a chance to shoot some of the other paraders and the spectators. I wanted to give a sense of what it’s like to be in the crowd, instead of the slightly antiseptic results I came back with in years prior. There’s a certain energy and enthusiasm we don’t get here in Albany at, say, Tulip or Lark Fest.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

My impression of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has been one of high alcohol consumption, which may just be a byproduct of the people I hang out with while I’m there. After the parade there was some hotel room drinking, some food and drinking at the Moose Club, some drinking and very noise-tolerant dogs at the Rusty Nail, and drunken bee bowling. I called it a night before the swarm invaded the Waterhole, a popular local establishment I had been forcefully ejected from last year.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

By the time we were near the ice castle, with ice UFOs gorgeously lit up, I was looking forward to getting horizontal. So, no photos of the castle for me this year, but honestly, it will be hard to ever top Mark Kurtz’ shot from that Nat Geo link. If you’ve never been to the carnival, you owe it to yourself to check it out at least once, see the official website for details. Think about reserving a room sometime around right now. I highly recommend checking the slideshow for larger photos, more not shown here, and a better idea of what it’s like to hang out with the Gimps for a day.

Special thanks to all of the hospitable residents of Saranac Lake, especially the police and fire departments who maintain a semblance of order. Until next year, happy carnival!

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

It may not feel like winter in Albany lately, but it’s December, and that means another Santa Speedo Sprint. I’ve talked about this in 2010 and 2009, so I’ll keep this mainly photos. The latest word I have is that ASAP raised over $20,000 for the Albany Damien Center, which is fantastic.

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

This year the sprinters were especially amorous. Draw your own conclusions.

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

That last one is from Lionheart Pub, where the awards and official unofficial afterparty were held. That gave its own opportunity for more photos.

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

2011 Santa Speedo Sprint, Albany NY

I split this one into two sets, here are the slideshows for the sprint itself and the aftermath. All Over Albany has their own photos (I love the third one down, killer lighting) and a good roundup; more photos from Sebastien, albany_tim, anobjectn, and MikeCNY. If you have some, drop a comment!

Five Rivers, Early Winter

Have I mentioned that Five Rivers is one of my favorite capital region places? Well it is.

Five Rivers, 11.07.2011

Early winter is a surprisingly predictable season. After an initial snowfall we usually get a week or two of mild temperatures, good for afternoon walks. The season already slings the sun low so there’s not as much worry about harsh noontime shadows, for those of us with cameras. I took the advantage of a long walk, there are plenty of trails for anyone who wants to get lost or found.

Five Rivers, 11.07.2011

Winter shoos most of the wildlife away but if you’re patient and aware you can see plenty. Walking along the field, where in the spring bobolinks and tree swallows can be found, I heard odd peeping sounds. In a nearby pond mallards were doing a strange pee-pee dance. By that I mean they were making pee-peep sounds and cavorting in the water. Cavorting? Yes, cavorting. Thank you ducks, without you I wouldn’t have noticed the heron resting on a far bank. After some patient watching he or she went into action. Lunch was spotted, the sinuous neck went into action, supreme fishing skills were employed.

Great Blue Heron, Five Rivers, 11.06.2011

Imagine just after that, a fish in this dog-sized bird’s mouth, which I can’t show you because I didn’t get the focus quite right. Watching a heron hunt is a joy of life, a moment when everything make sense and kinetic beauty illuminates the universe’s meaning. Or something.

Gall on Goldenrod, Five Rivers, 11.06.2011

Other miracles of life presented themselves, like this gall on a goldenrod stem. It’s probably home to the larva of a Goldenrod Gall Fly, which should make you feel lucky to not be a goldenrod. A shorn trunk held a truly impressive display of bracket fungus.

Bracket Fungus, Five Rivers, 11.06.2011

It’s difficult for me to positively identify the species, so if anyone can help please make yourself known. This is the most impressive display of bracket fungus I’ve seen yet, and my only wish is that the light would have been better. There’s a scrimshaw-like folk art dedicated to carving them; score the underside, and when it dries the etching is permanent.

Northern Flicker (male), Five Rivers, 11.06.2011

A Great Blue Heron wasn’t the only bird I saw, above is a male Northern Flicker. How do we know it’s a male? Well, like us (usually), only the male grows that stupendous moustache. I was extremely lucky to see him at all; for reasons unknown I paused on a section of trail, listening and waiting, and a few minutes later dozens of birds came into view, from robins to blue jays to chickadees to downy woodpeckers (or were they hairy, I still have trouble differentiating), to this guy. Flickers are a type of woodpecker but tend to stay near the ground, and I was lucky enough to see this one in full view, searching for lunch. That light stripe at the top is another bird flying by really fast. Okay, it’s just a twig in the foreground, but if I were taking better bird photos I would probably be selling them to magazines, right? (NatGeo, here’s my about page)

Five Rivers, 11.07.2011

As I was leaving, I caught this gorgeous display of an oak tree also leaving, if you get my drift. Sorry, I don’t offer refunds for pun-induced groans. The wind picked up and gave me the perfect Five Rivers goodbye, for the winter at least. I suggest you check that one out large or bigger to get the full effect, not that it equals being there by a long shot.

Five Rivers is one of many treasures in Albany’s backyard. I spent four lazy hours wandering the trails on a Sunday; you can do better, especially if you have kids. You can check out the continuing slideshow, but nothing beats being there. Go, now. I have to give props to Friends of Five Rivers who are keeping the spirit alive even as shrinking state funds threaten the DEC-owned center.

Most likely related posts:
Early Morning at Five Rivers
Five Rivers and Thacher Park
Yet More from Five Rivers