Rough Edges

The streets and back alleys of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood are rich with texture, literally and figuratively. Worn brick, surprising architectural juxtapositions, and the curious traces left by passers by are all fodder for the curious photographer.

Unlike the cities of Europe or even the eastern US, Seattle’s history began fairly recently, with active settlement getting underway about 160 years ago. A city of wooden buildings grew up on the logging industry, and then the combustibility of wood took the city down, in the “Great Fire” of 1889. It was quickly built back up, this time with brick, and many of those sturdy old structures still stand in Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s moody beauty come into its own.

It was a mid January afternoon and the goal was simply to wander around Pioneer Square, take photos, and enjoy the day. The weather was far from ideal, with dull, overcast skies and glare, so my processing choices were based on bringing more life to the images and involved more effects like infrared than I typically use. Below I’ll describe the “where” or “what” of the photographs and talk about processing decisions.

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The Photos:

  1. A photographer sets up a shot in an alley near Pioneer Square.  Processing: The highlights are blown out in the original, so I recovered some of the overexposed areas in Lightroom first. The image needed more punch, or a more graphic look. Settling on an infrared filter in Color Efex, I chose this off-kilter color style because I thought it suited the surroundings.
  2. A “Cash for your Banksy” poster with an L.A. phone number, posted in a Seattle alley? I’m still scratching my head about that one!  Processing: The original had too much going on and lacked focus. Again, I chose a color infrared effect in Color Efex. The color shift brought out the Banksy flyer and “TOM” graffiti nicely, but blackened the brick, so I lightened up the shadows and blacks a bit in Lightroom.
  3. What’s left of the old brick paving still gathers cigarette butts in this alley.  At the end of the block is Merrill Place, a renovation of a clutch of hundred-year-old buildings into retail space and condos. I bet the young urban professionals who buy a tony 1 -3 bedroom unit (paying mid to upper six figures) are the envy of their peers. We have an influx of new residents, a booming economy, and a construction boom in Seattle. The city was crowned “Crane Capitol of America” for two years running, with 58 cranes stabbing the skyline as of July, 2017.  Processing: The original was so dull that I wasn’t going to use it, but after seeing how well the infrared effect enhanced other images, I tried it again. To further emphasize the dark mystery of the alley I softened the focus, using the Color Efex “Glamor glow” filter. Then I added a vignette in Lightroom.
  4. Share a bike on the fly using the app on your phone, and you’ll help LimeBike and Spin grow their revenue! You’ll be doing good for the planet, too. Your first ride is free, after that it’s just $1/half hour. When you reach your destination, just leave the bike “anywhere responsible” and close the wheel lock. Next time you need a bike, your app will lead you to the nearest one. That’s how shared bikes work, and the trend is growing. Here, the competing company colors of two bikes left in an alley made a nice picture. I didn’t move them an inch!  Processing: A garbage bin marred the original so I cropped heavily to focus in on the bikes and reflections. I should have framed it better in the first place.  To emphasize the wonderful colors I used a film effect in Color Efex: Kodak Ektachrome 400X Pro. I lightened the center of the image slightly, and added a little vignetting in Lightroom.
  5. This photograph brings together three Pioneer Square themes: handsome old brick buildings, hanging flower baskets, and construction. Tarps are a recurring subject in my photography and I’m always on the lookout for them; for me, the tarp in front of the building doesn’t hurt the picture.  Processing: Silver Efex was used to convert to black and white, using the “Full Contrast & Structure” filter, Ilford PanX Plus 50 film simulation, and selenium toning. Back in Lightroom, blacks were darkened a bit and a slight vignette was added.
  6. Seattle Steam’s old smokestack is a welcome interruption in the cube-based skyline. When Seattle’s “Great Fire” of 1889 destroyed much of this area, companies like Seattle Steam took advantage of lucrative opportunities to rebuild the infrastructure. Over the years, Seattle Steam has gone through several owners and iterations, but the company still provides steam heat to many businesses and residences. Coal and oil are fuels of the past here; natural gas is preferred, and recently the company’s carbon footprint was reduced by 60% after installing equipment to use biomass – wood waste! – to heat the boilers. That’s coming full circle for a logging town!  Processing: Silver Efex was used to convert to black and white, using the “Fine Art High Key” filter, a Kodak 100 Tmax Pro film simulation and selenium toning. In Lightroom I cropped, darkened the exposure a little, increased the clarity, and sharpened.
  7. Perhaps there’s a restaurant in this old brick building, given the serious exhaust duct work.  Processing: This image is all about that beautiful duct, the way it contrasts with the brick, and its curve. I converted to black and white in Silver Efex; I don’t remember which settings I used. Back in Lightroom, a few minor adjustments included smoothing the tones on the duct slightly.
  8. I like the way these two older buildings follow the bend of the street and I’m surprised they haven’t been torn down (yet).  Processing: This poorly lit image went through several versions before I decided the sepia tones (a Lightroom preset) worked best. I adjusted the tone curve, opening up the shadows, then lightened the garage door and street, and darkened the upper right. I cropped to eliminate extraneous “stuff” and used Lightroom “Transform” to straighten building edges that appeared to lean.
  9. There’s that photographer again, framing a shot of the rail tracks that feed freight and passengers into and out of Seattle.  Processing: For consistency with the first photo of the photographer (actually my son) I used one of the colored infrared filters in Color Efex, which turned the green-leaved tree into a pink-blooming winter wonder. I added a lightened vignette in Lightroom.
  10. A heavy scrim of tree branches obscures one of Seattle’s landmarks, the building with the peaked roof line. Finished in 1914, the Smith Tower is the oldest skyscraper in town, and was for many years the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.  Processing: The photo was taken with my phone because I was traveling light, with just one lens. It wasn’t wide enough to capture what I wanted here, but the camera lens is. I cropped somewhat on both sides, decreased exposure and contrast, and made adjustments to saturation and luminance of each individual color. Because it was getting dark when the photo was taken, noise reduction was needed along with sharpening, both in Lightroom.
  11. A dock at the Seattle Ferry Terminal, where passengers walk or drive onto ferries to West Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island or Bremerton, a town on the Kitsap Peninsula. It’s a pleasure to walk over to the waterfront from Pioneer Square and take in the views, where the skies over the water are ever changing.  Processing: The blue-toned, contrasty look comes from converting the photo to black and white first, then adding a color infrared filter in Color Efex to the black and white image.
  12. The shiny newcomer wedging itself into Seattle’s skyline is the F5 Tower. Each floor is a different size. Rainwater collection, rooftop solar power, and glass similar to that used at One World Trade Center in New York that both absorbs and reflects sunlight, are Gold LEED certification features. The offices will house F5 Networks, a tech company.  Processing: The original photo was all about the mix of old and new buildings with the F5 Tower in the background, but the composition was just too crowded and needed to be simplified. I cropped a lot out, zeroing in on the tower’s facade. Unfortunately, I have forgotten how I made the rest of the changes!
  13. Late afternoon sun sidles through the storm clouds over Puget Sound, seen from the ferry terminal. That could be the ferry from Bremerton coming in. The rugged, snow-covered Olympic Mountains seen on the horizon lie between Seattle and the coast, to our east. With the Cascade Range to Seattle’s west and Mount Rainier rising up to the southwest, mountain vistas provide a majestic frame for the city…when they aren’t obscured by clouds!  Processing: This photo just needed subtle adjustments in Lightroom, such as softening the clouds at the top by using the graduated filter to reduce contrast, using it again to slightly darken the upper corners, and adjusting luminance in most of the colors, individually.

I don’t use filters in Color Efex as much as I did for this batch of photos, and I don’t convert to black and white as often as I did here, but I enjoyed using the effects to add interest to many photos that tended to be flat, due to overcast skies. At the waterfront, conditions improved, and the final shot’s colors stood well on their own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odds & Endings

Here is a miscellaneous group of images taken this year that have not been posted. The emphasis this time is urban. I’m going to attempt to tie them together with a bit of whimsy.

So: out with the old, in with the new, as cranes of all colors tear out a concrete building in downtown Seattle, exposing the upside-down, curvy underside of its neighbor.

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That’s a lot of work! I doubt those guys do anything exciting on their breaks, but if you’re setting up a silo for a new brewery at Pike Place Market, lucky you! You get to watch Mount Rainier bask in the glow of the setting sun.

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Just to the south a jumble of vents atop a building creates yet another oddball urban composition.

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Farther south in Seattle’s old Pioneer Square neighborhood, handsome brick buildings compose themselves against a clear blue sky – yes, blue sky happens in Seattle – in fact, the sky is blue here all summer long.

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A museum staircase provides another opportunity to enjoy architectural design.

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So does a 1929 Art Deco tower backed up by a newer building in downtown Seattle. In your eyes, the newer building may or may not have succeeded in taking its cues from the past. But like it or not, it’s fun to wander the city streets in search of patterns.

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At some point you have to give it all a rest, go out to the back alley, sit a spell. The cigarette buts tell me someone’s been doing just that.

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Maybe they daydream about the holidays and colorful toys from the past…

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Or maybe their reveries center on sunny days running through candy-colored gardens….

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And treats, yes, let’s not forget that. Here’s to all of you having as many treats as you want in the New Year!

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Whether you prefer Christmas red and green, Hanukah blue and white,

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or something else altogether,

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I wish you oodles of cheer, and lets make it ordinary cheer, like this fellow spreads down at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Sure, he has dreads down to his knees, his scarf is awry and his jacket frayed, but that’s what ordinary looks like, and maybe we need a little more of it.

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*

I thank you for your presence here. It’s meant a lot this year. I’ll see you again very soon, with photographs from a warmer place…pleasant dreams!

An Idiosyncratic View

Here are 25 images from 8 days in New York City, where I lived on and off through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 2000’s. My view of the city is never the same two days running, but it’s likely it will be in line with this:

“There is no surrender of beauty, only an effort to find beauty by going past the typical and arriving at the common. I do not love the travel pages. I look past them and go to the substratum of the visible environment. What I love about Bali is what I love about Sao Paulo, Nairobi, Seoul and Reykjavik: the material evidence of human life, which goes on in spite of the world’s enmity. In this search, the intense attachment to the beautiful remains. The sun pours itself all over the world and the world’s things. Things are being built, or repaired, or broken. Things sit in the street, free of use. Things are on the verge of speech. Ladders rise, angels invisibly ascend and descend.”

“Assemblages inhabit their own complexity and color. What I visit less often is what has been labeled beautiful ahead of time, what has been verified by the tourist board. I want to see the things the people who live there see, or at least what they would see after all the performance of tourism is stripped away.  I love these places that are not mine for the underground channel of perception by which they are connected, the common semantics of used space, the shock of familiarity, the impossibility of exact repetition.”

Teju Cole, from the book “Blind Spot.”

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1) A Long Island Railroad crossing in a town just outside New York City

2) Graffiti sticker at historic Fort Totten: Queens

3) A photographer in the garden at the Noguchi Museum in Astoria: Queens

4) One World Trade seen through a scrim of Sycamore branches: lower Manhattan

5) Waiting to cross the street at Fifth Avenue and 80th Street: uptown Manhattan

6) Overgrown ammunition magazine at Fort Totten: Queens

7) One seat left at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: uptown Manhattan

8) I wore silly shoes, I dropped my scarf

9) The residential buildings, Toren Tower and Avalon Fort Greene: Brooklyn

10) The W train (elevated subway) in Astoria: Queens

11) Two crab escapees at the fish counter at a Chinese grocery store in Flushing: Queens

12) Looking up Broadway near Wall Street at rush hour: lower Manhattan

13) There’s always construction: lower Manhattan

14) There’s always construction: Queens

15) Ductwork and fire escape, vicinity of Church Street: lower Manhattan

16) Texting in a cafe in Chelsea: Manhattan

17) “All is Not Lost Too” when texting while walking in Astoria: Queens

18) A high rise seen through ornamental grasses in Battery Park: lower Manhattan

19) One World Trade Center seen through trees in Zucotti Park: lower Manhattan

20) Pedestrians at rush hour in Zucotti Park: lower Manhattan

21) The Oculus at the World Trade Center: lower Manhattan

22) Train tracks outside the city: New Hyde Park, Long Island

23) A woman rests her gaze at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: uptown Manhattan

24) A migrating Monarch butterfly on Verbena: Battery Park, lower Manhattan

25) The Throgs Neck Bridge seen through Black locust tree seed pods at Fort Totten Park: Queens

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Graces

Ever since I first saw a reproduction of a statue of the Three Graces, I’ve been drawn to the idea and manifestation of Three Graces. In mythology the three graces are Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance). Who doesn’t need more of those qualities? Who would foolishly turn away from them?

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I walk though the Greek and Roman Galleries on my way to see another exhibit, and I’m stopped short by the vision of my old friends, the Three Graces. Full size, the hover above me but are not out of reach. The galleries are crowded with visitors but the familiar form burns into my retina, cancelling out everything else.

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The three women connect with each other, joined in a relaxed stance that belies the importance of their work: bringing joy and beauty to the world. Facing, not facing, facing, they include everyone in grace. Fellowship and power – the power of grace – are embodied in the feminine.

(Also called the Kharities (Charities), they attended Aphrodite and Hera. Dance, song, joy, goodwill and adornment can be added to their virtues. Cults worshiped them in southern Greece and Asia Minor, and many artistic renditions of them sprang up in pottery, on coins, in sculpture, etc. At first they were clothed, later they were shown naked. From Botticelli to Niki de Saint Phalle, artists continue to work the theme.)

The 2nd century AD statue was purchased in 2010 with the help of, among others, Oscar de la Renta, the fashion designer. Mr. de la Renta, famous for clothing women elegantly, helped the museum keep these unclothed beauties in the public eye.

 

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Upstairs I noticed another rendition:

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The painting (titled “Meeting (The Three Graces)” is by Manierre Dawson, whom I hadn’t heard of. An American born in 1887 to an art-loving family, he studied civil engineering and worked in an architectural firm. In 1910 he traveled to Europe, where he looked at lots of art and attended a soiree at Gertrude Stein’s. What an education it must have been!  After returning to America he was producing innovative abstract paintings, one of which Stein purchased. He supported himself and his family by working a fruit farm at his family’s summer property in rural Michigan. The contradictions artists often live within:  Dawson purchased a Marcel Duchamp painting at the Armory show in 1913; on the farm he mastered orchard skills: what trees need to bear fruit.

In a 1913 journal entry he writes, “Why not stay here on the farm, add a few acres of level land … and earn a living from the soil, with every spare hour devoted, at times to the pleasures of married life, or at times to the pleasures of painting, sketching or carving.”  “The pleasures of” – the Three Graces’ whispered message is heard, and heeded. The farm became successful and Dawson devoted more time to making art, finally achieving recognition late in life with shows in Florida, and later New York.  He is considered an American pioneer of abstract art.

The day after visiting the Met, I was in Chelsea and again I was stopped short by a vision of Three Graces.

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A water offering sits at the base. Traffic streams down Ninth Avenue. The women are a counterpart to all that rushes and flows around them and I’m drawn in to the warm, sensual feeling emanating from gray stone.

One more image from New York seems to fit the theme:

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A tree mars the composition but you take what you can get when you’re taking pictures on the street. The women are part of a wedding party gathering for pictures on a Friday afternoon in Battery Park, in lower Manhattan. There are more than three people and they’re not all women, but Beauty, Mirth and Abundance are embodied here, on this October afternoon.

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Besides seeing various versions of the Three Graces, I made other connections on this trip, connections that are inevitable if you think about what you see, and unfetter your mind. There was the work of two Japanese American artists who were interned during WWII, Isamu Noguchi and Ruth Asawa. I don’t know if they ever met, but I saw connections in their experiences as Japanese Americans with complicated identities, in their mastery of materials and in the simplicity of form in their work.

Trees were a running theme, whether at an old African Burial ground in Queens or a busy downtown park. Monarch butterflies too, because they were flying at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Battery Park. Bamboo, featured in a Metropolitan Museum exhibit, also drew my eye at the Noguchi Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Architecture and ordinary buildings held my attention everywhere. The sensory overload was intense, but my eyes were hungry.

It felt good to return to the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BACK AGAIN

I went back again to

my beloved

New York City

now

I’m back again, in

my treasured

Pacific Northwest.

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And needless to say, there are many photographs to look at, think about, process and share. There are more in my inbox; the backlog is eleven days old. Today I’ll begin catching up with what everyone is doing.

On this trip, we spent a lot of time in the outer boroughs – five days of seeing sights and lively, often raucous, get-togethers with family and friends in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island – leaving just three days in Manhattan. New York is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.  Manhattan is at the center, the others are the outer boroughs. When people say “New York City” they usually mean Manhattan, but a city resident could spend their entire life in the Bronx and never go into Manhattan.

As we traveled from borough to borough by car, glimpses of the Manhattan skyline captivated me, just as they have for many years. I first came to New York as a five-year-old to visit my grandparents. We went up to my grandfather’s office in a building on Park Avenue, and looking out his window, I was transfixed by all the yellow cabs, the activity, the color and movement. The view up Park Avenue and the energy on the streets and sidewalks of New York became focus points driving a deep longing to fully experience life in the city. By the age of 18 I was living in Manhattan. A photo from that early trip:

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Here are a few views of Manhattan from the elevated BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), a notorious traffic nightmare. It wasn’t too hard to grab shots of the skyline as we went from Queens to Brooklyn at a 20 mph clip, which is decent for the BQE.  The old Kosciuszko Bridge over Newtown Creek had just been demolished, leaving sections of the roadway angled wildly into the air like a sculpture John Chamberlin or Mark di Suvero might have done back in the 60’s. That’s the kind of eyeball-popping excitement I expect from New York, and I’m never disappointed. There are always surprises in New York, especially when you’ve been away for a few years…

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How about that? The iconic Empire State Building and Chrysler Building stand proud behind a foreground lush trees and a cemetery. Not your average NYC skyline view.

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The Chrysler Building is on the left, and to the right is the soaring, skinny 452 Park Avenue, said to be the western hemisphere’s tallest residential building. The East River, which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens, can’t be seen here. It’s between the high rises and the older buildings.

 

 

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Pieces of the old Kosciuzko Bridge roadway, seen from the new one, after the bridge was demolished. The center section of the bridge was cut off, lowered towards the water and barged to a New Jersey scrapyard, then sections of bridge roadway on either side were VERY carefully detonated. Watch the demolition here and here. I think the sections I photographed are farther from the main bridge, so they haven’t been fully demolished yet – but if anyone knows better, I’m all ears.

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This view shows Newtown Creek in the foreground. It separates Brooklyn from Queens, and has been a busy hub of industrial activity for decades. It’s a Superfund site now because of copious amounts of raw sewage and industrial waste dumped there over the years, along with 30 million gallons of spilled oil. How placid the polluted estuary seems!

In my mind, the old smokestack echoes the new residential tower in Manhattan, tying together two very different sides of New York – the glitzy world of high-price Manhattan real estate and the workaday world of heavy industry and sewage disposal. Just two days ago an 8-acre residential site went up for sale on Newtown Creek, in the middle of what has been an industrial wasteland for many years. Someday, this could all be gentrified…

I’ll be back soon with more from New York….where just five miles from the places pictured above I saw this magical sight – a group of hungry Monarch butterflies feeding on asters at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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ODE TO STATEN ISLAND

Three years ago I posted about New York City’s Staten Island, the borough New Yorkers love to hate. As I said back then, I had lived in the city on and off for four decades – on Manhattan’s Lower and Upper East Sides, the Bowery, the Upper West Side, Brooklyn, the Bronx’s pretty Riverdale neighborhood, and other city locations. In 2008 I worked in Lower Manhattan and commuted from Connecticut – a four hour round trip by car, train, and subway: pure madness.  At the time I couldn’t afford Manhattan or Brooklyn rent, so I decided to look on Staten Island. I found a big, rambling apartment on the north end of the island, a pleasant ten minute walk to the ferry to Lower Manhattan. After the ferry ride, I could jump on the subway or walk the last bit to my job, in an office building next to the old World Trade Center site, then under construction.

On weekends I explored my new back yard: the somewhat wild and very weird Staten Island. I found it to be an endlessly fascinating mashup of the sublime and the ridiculous.

I’m grounded this month – I can’t drive, I can’t use my camera. I can pick away at the keyboard with my left hand though, so it’s an opportunity to dredge the archives and see what surfaces.This handful of images from New York’s forgotten borough has waited long enough.

As I said in that last Staten Island post, when I lived there I found plenty to hate – noise, traffic, pollution, rudeness, stupidity – but I also found lots to love, and much to wonder about.

This too, is New York City:

Great egrets stalk prey in a flooded park next to a Staten Island beach, after a September hurricane ripped apart the thin margin separating ocean and lawn. Like New York’s other boroughs – Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx – Staten Island has an abundance of bird life. It offers good habitat variety and sits right on the Atlantic flyway, one of North America’s main avian migration routes.

The beaches also attract island residents, who migrate here from all over the world.

Our favorite stretch of beach for walks was off the beaten track and boasted a series of cairn sculptures that grew into an elaborate installation, transforming a good half mile of coastline into an ingenious wonderland.  A dedicated local zookeeper named Doug Schwartz was behind this obsessive labor of love. We ran into him once. A quiet man, he seemed to be a typically eccentric Staten Islander. Every piece of the stone monoliths was found on site, hauled and stacked by hand. Beach walkers, captivated by the impressive effort, would sometimes lend a hand, or add their own touches in typically spontaneous New York fashion.

Powerful storms washed the sturdy cairns away several times, but Doug kept at it. Then, unbelievably, he was ordered by the Department of Environmental Conservation to remove all the sculptures. I thought the sculptures were an intelligent, attractive solution to the problem of debris that continuously washes up on Staten Island’s none-too-pristine beaches. The DEC guys thought otherwise.  Here’s a story about that fiasco.  It exemplifies the bloated, inhuman, bureaucratic side of New York, which was partially responsible for my leaving the state.

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Beach debris is so tempting, isn’t it?  The day I took this picture, we were sorely tempted by these rusted artifacts, but the car was too far away – a photo had to suffice.  In the background are migrating ducks and Brant geese.

Speaking of debris washing up, while exploring the industrialized north shore one day, we noticed a promising dirt road leading towards the waterfront.  OK, it was private property – but no one was around and the gate was open, so I insisted on checking it out. At the end of the narrow, overgrown road we came to a sliver of sand littered with debris. Looking closely, I realized that dozens of small, old potsherds and bits of glass were scattered about, and were still washing up in the gentle tide.

It was an amazing find – everything was quite old and seemed to have originated in the same place – maybe Britain circa 1920, or even earlier. A shipwreck?

I was unable to ferret out any clues as to the origin of this small bonanza. We returned once more that summer to collect more artifacts. The following year we returned again, but a tall fence blocked access to the road and property. A younger, braver member of our group tried to scale it, but he couldn’t. That was the end of that.

I wonder if old fragments of forgotten lives still wash ashore there, and if anyone notices.

Inland on Staten Island, the greenest borough, there are many parks and preserves – over 12,000 acres. Some are still fairly wild, considering you’re in a city of eight million souls.

But wildness attracts the “wrong kind” of New Yorker, too, and Staten Island has plenty of those. This park was beset with rusting car wrecks, tires and garbage.

In another park nearby, a sweet statue survived relatively unscathed at an open air shrine. Perched on a bluff overlooking the water and dating to 1935, the shrine is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. People leaves flowers, crosses, hand written prayers, photos of loved ones, rosaries…and during the four years I lived in the area, the offerings remained undisturbed. An old broom leaned against the wall, ready to tidy the shrine.

You can see the figure take the weather in stride – the second photo was taken a few years before the first one.

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Staten Island is a famously Italian borough. Besides the shrine at Mount Loretto and fabulous Italian food, a local cultural center boasts a pretty little Italianate building and reflecting pool, built a few years ago for weddings and receptions.

A few steps away, the center (Snug Harbor) offers a charmingly overgrown botanical garden. It may be a poor cousin to the well known New York Botanical Garden, but I came to love it more, for its simple charms and air of subtly elegant neglect. I must have a thousand pictures of the gardens and flowers at Snug Harbor. It became my go-to place for R & R after long weeks of working for the state department of health, monitoring services for people with brain injuries.  My office in a building adjacent to the twin towers site was a stressful place to be during the reconstruction, and Snug Harbor provided respite.

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There is a Chinese Scholar’s Garden at Snug Harbor, too. Other than a nominal charge to enter the Scholar’s Garden, the grounds of Snug Harbor are free to all.

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Surprises are a dime a dozen on Staten Island – turn down a side street in a residential area, and you may find something like this next to a modest home.  Explore back roads in sparsely populated neighborhoods, and you’ll see the occasional rooster scratching in a side yard.

Here’s Superman atop a business that makes awnings. Around the corner in this mixed use neighborhood was a dignified, if dilapidated older home, with interesting curtains on the door.

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The island was (and still is, I hope) a rich hunting ground for oddball attractions. One sunny Saturday we ventured warily through an open chain link gate in a post-industrial wasteland just off a highway. Someone had been living in an abandoned trailer on a concrete-covered lot that was quickly reverting to weeds. It was hard to tell how long ago they last used the space, but they certainly left their mark. Behind the trailer, hard by a marsh and winding creek, sculptures constructed from waste dumped at the site dotted the rough landscape.

This is REAL outsider art! Who else ever saw these? Anyone? What impulse moved the artist – you’d have to give them that – to create these?

On the trailer wall, a broken plastic candy cane played visual tag with a series of stencils. I couldn’t decide whether it was creepy or poignant.

I think the latter.

Staten Island offers quotidian delights like magnolia blossom-strewn sidewalks as readily as the strange sights of less traveled roads. This was on the block where I lived.

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And sunsets – I remember sitting alone on the sandy beach and watching the sun go down on this beautiful April evening, reveling in that brief, glowing meld of color that settles in once the sun is below the horizon. How about wild deer on an island in New York City? Staten Island has that. Folks say they swam over from New Jersey. (We were in a car, when I took this, exploring back roads again).

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The flora of Staten Island is what a botanist would consider degraded, since it is overrun with alien species and invasives. Still, I enjoyed my regular wildflower forays each summer and fall. I explored every back road I could find on that island. Pretty soon I knew exactly where I could go to put together a bouquet.

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I drew maps to remember where I’d been – and how to get back.

If the weather didn’t cooperate, there was always the view from my window. Looking west, the old St. Peters clock tower is just visible during a winter ice storm. A neighbor is burning cardboard and trash in his old furnace to get warm – just don’t inhale too much!

To the northwest are the busy ports of Bayonne and Elizabeth, New Jersey, just past the Kill van Kull’s busy shipping lanes. I never tired of watching the ships and tugs. I would google a container ship name to learn where it came from and where it was going.  Here, a barge is pushed out the Kill van Kull by a local tug as another tug returns to port. Dramatic skies vie for attention.

There are too many window views to include here – they deserve their own post. Another day.

Parting shot: sunset on the Kill van Kull with the Bayonne Bridge in the distance. A curve of neglected rail track glints and a trio of gulls soars west past the ubiquitous chain link fence – a typical meeting of the mundane and sublime, on Staten Island.

How a Phone is Changing Me

The phone camera provides a very different experience than a digital camera does. It has far fewer opportunities for control – no aperture or ISO setting, no special lenses to choose – just that oddly flat rectangle to hold up to a scene, turn this way and that, and lightly touch.

It’s less calculated. I find I’m more spontaneous when I use it. This adaptation to the technology at hand – it’s almost Darwinian!

Here we are, in the car-wash again, floating in a colorworld…

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A few days later, during a brief respite between appointments. Downtown Seattle:

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I’m not going to switch from digital to a phone camera, but I’m glad I have the phone with me all the time. It opens up other paths.

Life is busy lately so I’m looking forward to getting away next weekend for a road trip I’ve been wanting to do ever since I moved here: a big loop east on Washington Rt. 20 (north of Seattle) through and over the Cascades. This very scenic road is closed much of the year because of the snow and avalanches. We’ll turn south at the little town of Twisp on the dry, eastern Cascade slope. Finally, we’ll head back west on Rt. 2 or I 90, depending on our energy levels come Sunday. There will be two overnights, one at a countryside airbnb north of here, the other at a rather pedestrian hotel in Winthrop – one of the last rooms available in the area when I booked the other day. Hopefully I won’t forget the SD card or the battery charger!

 

TAKE TWO: NY/LA

A miscellany of things that caught my eye in New York and LA.

 

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Ah, New York pizza, how we missed it!  And the streets.

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At the Whitney, an employee replaces wicks in a huge wax sculpture, telling the onlookers, “You know, this is not a performance.” Right, just a gal doin’ her job…

The 8 foot sculpture of Julian Schnabel is by Urs Fischer, who often works with materials that decay and change with time. I wonder how much of the cast wax sculpture has melted since I was there a month ago.

Fischer says, “You could see an artwork as an offering. If you are ready to take something out of it, or if you reject it, it’s up to you. It’s there anyway. That’s what I like about art.” 

 

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Puzzling it out inside a Serra sculpture at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibit is up until July 29th. Go see it, and maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to have your assumptions about space and physicality skewed, or at least, enriched.

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From the notebooks of June Leaf, at an exhibition titled “Thought is Infinite” at the Whitney through July 17th.

Born in 1929, Leaf has worked and shown in New York for many decades. If it wasn’t for this exhibition of her work at the Whitney I’d still be ignorant of her. She said in an interview: “You can make something and you see it. But then you have to spend your life to get the world to see it.”

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A table top -sized sculpture by Leaf, above, and part of another sculpture, below.

When asked if she thinks of herself as a painter or sculptor, Leaf said she thinks she’s an inventor.

When asked when she knows a piece is finished: “The image has to hit you back, for all of your gesticulating and fighting and stabbing and jabbing, being courageous or weak, or soft or hard. Something tells you when you’ve told the truth. It is a little like falling in love, not that it is equal to that. But, it is a similar moment, where you can’t argue with it; you can’t fake being in love. “

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A companion show at Thorp Gallery in Chelsea closed a few days ago, but Thorp regularly shows her work. Highly recommended.

Another show I enjoyed was Sigmar Polke at David Zwirner in Chelsea. Here is one painting from it, poorly shot with my phone:

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Coffee break under the Highline.

On the other coast, my eye was caught by this palm growing next to a fence. The dizzying angle was surely a reflection of my state of mind.

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At LACMA – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  An installation of antique lamp posts by Chris Burden contrasts new and old and repeats the verticality of a nearby high rise and the ever present palms.

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Detail from the kitchen of a private home in Hollywood Hills.

Below, an extraordinary tree at the Huntington Botanical Garden in LA. The silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), called palo borracho (drunken stick) in Spanish, grows in South American tropics and sub-tropics. Covered with sharp little spears to keep animals away, its pods produce fluff used like kapok, which it’s related to. Who could resist that figure?

 

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Beside a bonsai exhibit at the Huntington Botanical Garden, a guard began to quietly balance rocks on sculpture pedestals. He had an intense presence. He was heavyset with long, dark hair, and he wore Southwest Native American jewelry. Three young women watched him work, fascinated. It seemed to be something he would just do from time to time. One of women talked briefly and quietly to the guard. He was a man of few words. We heard snatches of the conversation: she was struggling with grief over a family member’s cancer, he offered to help her balance rocks; it would help her heal.

He showed her how, with almost no words – just 100 % concentration. After balancing a heavy rock on its narrow end herself, the woman broke into a smile and tears of joy.

It was one of those serendipitous moments that leave you breathless and without words.

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Framed in LA, above; frames in LA, below.

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More from the Melrose Flea market, a favorite LA Sunday shopping destination.

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Parting LA shot: a spindly cactus reaches for a better view at LACMA.

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Back home, the ubiquitous Doug firs, shot this time through a small pane of blue glass in a frame, balanced on a window. Sometimes the view from home is enough. Sometimes you need to fly somewhere, switch it up.  I’m thankful that I have both options.

 

 

 

 

 

IN NY: HIGH LINE

Last week I was back in New York, the city I fell in love with at the age of five, moved to at age seventeen, then left and returned to several times before moving west in 2012.

When I was in my early twenties I kept a bike in my apartment. I would ride around lower Manhattan on the weekends before my shift at an uptown restaurant, where I waited tables. For a few summers wildflowers grew in profusion on the empty lots that were the future site of the World Trade Center, then just in the planning stages. I could pick flowers for free and bring them back to my apartment. I was always trying to meld city and country. Sometimes I got up onto the High Line, too. The High Line was an old elevated railway on the West side that had been abandoned years before. Wildflowers grew there, and small trees sprouted up through the rubble, totally untended and mostly unseen. It was magic.

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This photo was taken just last week but it evokes the feeling of the old High Line, minus the broken glass and trash. The elevated rail line was used to haul in basic foods like cream, butter and meat back in the 1940’s and 50’s. For a time, it was safer than running trains down on the busy streets. When the trucking industry expanded, the rail line fell into disuse. Instead of tearing down what many people considered an eyesore, the city did the right thing and turned it into a park. It opened in 2009 and became an instant hit with New Yorkers and tourists.

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Above, the park seen from the Whitney Museum. Last year the Whitney moved into a new building designed by Renzo Piano. The building’s hulking, muscular form visually anchors the south end of the High Line. Piano’s design allows visitors to descend from floor to floor outside the building, offering expansive views of the Hudson River waterfront, Manhattan’s West Side, and the High Line. There are nice people-watching opportunities too, if you’re in a sociable mood. I was happy for the crowds that day. I enjoyed the huge portrait show at the Whitney – Seattle doesn’t come close to what New York offers in terms of art. I also liked a Whitney show of work by June Leaf, an older artist who’s not very well known. A gallery nearby had a concurrent show of her sculpture and drawing so we headed over. We passed shows of Sigmar Polke’s painting at David Zwirner Gallery and Richard Serra’s sculpture at Gagosian. We took long drinks at the deep well that is art in New York City. It was a day of serendipity, as one thing led to the next.

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Back on the street next to Whitney, looking up towards the High Line. As you walk north or south through the park, essentially a narrow strip of real estate set with tasteful benches and beautifully landscaped with (mostly) native flowers and trees, you can pass under buildings, peer into windows and gaze down onto streets that cross underneath. You’re just above the fray. It’s enough to gain a different perspective, but not so far above that it isn’t still real, and close.

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If you’re interested, that’s Baptisia in the right corner and Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon) sprouting up through concrete strips that echo the railroad tracks. The pink and blue flowers above are Salvia pratensis (Meadow sage). The metal hoops between the rails are a sculpture called “Steel Rings” that references the Trans-Arabian pipeline, by Rayyane Tabet.

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Tony Matelli’s painted bronze sculpture “Sleepwalker” draws crowds.

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Someone has written “FELIX” on these construction plates. Why, I don’t know. It’s just another manifestation of identity in a city that always strives upwards.

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Frank Gehry’s IAC Building, his first in New York, and one of my favorite sites along the High Line. I love viewing it through these honeysuckle vines winding up a fence, but I understand that may not appeal to everyone.

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DID YOU KNOW that the elevated railroad was built because trains on tracks running down Tenth Avenue caused the deaths of many pedestrians? DID YOU KNOW that “West Side Cowboys” ran ahead of the trains on their horses, carrying red flags to warn passers by of the oncoming train? Eventually the city decided enough was enough and built the elevated line. It fell out of favor when trucking got big. It was considered an eyesore for years, but now lives anew, as one of New York’s big attractions.

The links are excellent – worth a few minutes!

Lynn Purse, of the blog Composerinthegarden, sent a great video link about the making of the High Line:

I made liberal use of some of the so-called art filters on my Olympus camera the day we went to the Whitney and High Line. It was overcast and dull out. The filters added a little punch. I go back and forth about using them, sometimes believing I should stick with images straight from the camera without in-camera modifications that I might later regret (but it’s always good to question one’s “shoulds”).

Two days earlier, I met up with another blogger, Patti Kuche. We sat down in the Rubin Museum and talked a blue streak about photography and blogging. Patti picked up my camera and casually took a few photos from where we sat, using the filters – she knew about them because she had once considered getting the camera.  I liked what she did, and that was all I needed to go back to trying them again. Coming soon: Patti’s photos and thoughts about bloggers’ meetings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L.A.

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Ah, how exciting to soak up sun and stylishness in Los Angeles, if only for a long weekend…

…and that’s what we did.

Above, some random impressions, mostly from Hollywood and environs.

  1. Home in Hollywood Heights
  2. Canter’s – (“L.A’s Best Since 1931”) I cannot say enough about how happy I was to buy goodies here. Canter’s is a balm for the soul of someone who achieved adulthood with the help of New York Jewish delis.
  3. Lunch at the Paramount Coffee Project (“Australia’s Hippest Coffee”) on Fairfax. I recommend the Dirty Bird (check out this menu!). And of course, there’s a place for pooch!
  4. Sunglasses, a must
  5. Look up!
  6. Sunday evening espresso at Verve Coffee on Melrose in West Hollywood – SERIOUS coffee!
  7. Iced espresso at the Paramount Coffee Project
  8. The door to the tiny courtyard at our little airbnb in Hollywood Heights
  9. Help Wanted sign, Canter’s
  10. More local architecture, with typical palm and cactus landscaping
  11. Island Fresh, Caribbean seafood restaurant in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood. I wish we’d had time to stop!
  12. Seems about right for L.A.
  13. Recycled San Francisco patrol car – and they found a parking spot!
  14. Vintage duds at the Fairfax Flea Market – a great way to spend Sunday morning
  15. A Bird of Paradise bloom in someone’s garden (using an in-camera effect)
  16. The view from Hollywood Heights
  17. LACMA architecture (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
  18. Full moon with palms over the city

Last, setting up for the Oscars. The statues were getting their golden glitz treatment in a lot behind the Dolby Theater. We were en route to grab an espresso on our way to the airport but the street was closed and there was no place to park and run over.But we did pull off briefly to grab a few shots of the behind the scenes prep for Hollywood’s favorite event.

But more important – what about my double espresso?? There was nothing else nearby other than Starbucks, so I took my chances that at least one genuine independent coffee purveyor would be located at the airport. Yes, but what a walk – all the way from terminal five to terminal six at LAX – whatever works – it did the trick!