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!

DEPARTURE

Having departed from Bainbridge Island a half hour earlier, the M/V Tacoma, a 460 foot ferry capable of carrying over 200 cars and 2000 passengers, is about to arrive in Seattle. I’m watching from the sidewalk next to the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, a few blocks from Pike Place Market.

It’s spitting rain out there. The sky is changeable today, morphing through rain and sun-break, and back to rain again. I don’t mind – it’s a nice departure from the blank, featureless grays that typify northwest winters. I’ve just been to the Seattle Art Museum and I’m headed to Pike Place for coffee at Le Panier, with a stop along the way to take in the view.

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Looking at art can have the effect of making the most mundane objects around you look new. Museum and gallery walls expand to encompass the street, and everyday objects take on the guise of “art.”  Recognizing patterns, color and form in new ways, you interact differently with the world. Neurologists might say this phenomenon is an opening up of neural pathways that, once activated, start to repeat themselves in grooved loops of pleasure.  OK, that’s fuzzy science, but whatever the explanation, spending time with painting and sculpture can energize the way you look at the world.

 

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No doubt many people would recognize the sculptural quality of this construction site near the waterfront, but after studying a beautiful steel and glass Christopher Wilmarth piece at the museum, I find the industrial duct work alive with formal possibilities.

Wilmarth, a minimalist sculptor who died in 1987, bent heavy sheets of roughly finished steel and thick slabs of plate glass like you might fold a piece of cardboard, juxtaposing their contrasting properties with apparent ease. His work caught my eye at a 1970 Whitney Museum sculpture exhibit – I still have the catalog. I’d forgotten about him, so it was exciting to see his sculpture commanding the floor in a museum show about Light and Space.

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Another work that stayed with me the rest of the day was a large white painting by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Mary Corse. Her minimalist work, especially the all white painting series, doesn’t reproduce well, but it’s very intriguing to be around. Corse uses the tiny glass beads that make road signs reflective to lend a changeable quality to the light that hits and emanates from her paintings. As I walked around her paintings the surface shifted, a pleasant, meditative experience.

One painting brought to mind a Puget Sound fog, though she would reject that characterization. For her, the paintings don’t reference landscapes or anything else in the outer world. Rather, they’re perceptual tools to make us understand reality in a new way, generating new meaning, or presence, or state of being.”

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On to the market. The press of tourists is intense even in January, so we don’t dally too long. But yes, the espresso and baguette sandwich were great. Sorry you weren’t there!

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One way to deal with the crowds is to go down an alley behind the buildings, across from the main market. It’s only slightly quieter, but at least I can admire the bulging brick walls and generous windows at the old buildings’ backs.

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On the way home I take the camera out again when rain-slicked skies turn the street lights into compositions of intense, luscious color.

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It’s been a departure for me today – no images of leaves or trees, buds or branches. A refreshing change of pace.

 

I MISS THIS PLACE!

What place?  Here!

Life has kept me too busy to post lately. This blog is an important creative outlet for me, and I really miss it.

Feeling desperate, I’m stealing a few minutes from my other life (quote unquote!) and posting a few recent photos:

Big Four Ice Caves,  Cascade Mountain Range, 20 miles east of Granite Falls, WA. The ice caves were behind me. It was mid June, and there was still plenty of deep snow up there.

Oak fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris;  Big Four Ice Caves Trail.

Small unidentified grass. Here I tried free lensing – taking the lens off the camera and holding it backwards against the camera to get an unusual focus effect. Thanks to Leah, the fantastic photographer at Uprooted Magnolia, for the idea.

A grass at the Center for Urban Horticulture, in Seattle (shot normally).

Rather a theatrical daisy portrait – placed against watercolor paper, in sunlight.

And finally, a self portrait taken into and through a window on top of the Smith Tower in Seattle, with reflections and a view of the Space Needle in the distance.

I hope you’re enjoying summer! More soon….I hope!

Companions – Boon and Otherwise

A “boon companion” is usually one with whom you have good times. There are many boon companions to be seen in readers’ contributions to the current Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge, whose theme is “Companionable.”

My boon companion and I snapped a photo of our shadows one cold day in Manhattan:

These guys may not be boon companions, but they sure make an interesting pair:

I imagine these men that I noticed in a back alley in Seattle spend companionable time together every day – maybe not such productive time according to some people’s standards, but companionable nonetheless:

I’m not sure how much of a companion – boon or otherwise – this man thinks the Great Blue Heron that waits patiently beside him, hour after hour, really is:

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These are most certainly boon companions – what trust – a calm face as the toenails are clipped:

Now, to throw a wrench into the flow of this post, did you know that gardeners talk about companion plants? Here’s a perfect example – only foliage, and what harmonious companionship they exhibit:

Back to a more typical view of companionship – this man can often be found playing his portable piano on the sidewalk outside Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  He plays as though there’s no better companion than his piano, and his music draws people whose companionship seems to grow deeper as they listen:

On a lighter note, these guys appear to be great companions too, don’t they?

Tomorrow another Weekly Photo Challenge will be posted. But meanwhile, there are a multitude of photos from last weeks challenge of companions to be found here.

A PARTICULAR POINT OF VIEW

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photography Challenge is to present photographs that show the world through your eyes, thinking carefully about the subject of your image in order to convey just what you saw/thought/felt at the moment you pushed that shutter.

I love to photograph flowers, and I’m most happy with them when they express a particular point of view – the way I see the world –  instead of being  just another pretty flower picture.

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These studies were done at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, where food and flowers overflow and tourists contentedly wander the ramshackle wooden buildings and stroll along the old brick street. From inside the market flower stalls present a stunning array of color and form that changes with the seasons, as local farmers bring in new varieties. It’s an irresistible scene to photograph and I’m sure it’s been done thousands of times.

Out on the street, the long row of flower stalls is open to the air. Most people don’t pay attention to that view because cars crowd the curb, and it’s the working end of the business: the buckets, scissors and florist paper, the workers assembling bouquets.  In chilly weather the vendors hang clear plastic tarps at the back of their stalls to keep out the cold.

One early spring afternoon I noticed that buckets of flowers were pushed back hard against the tarps, making interesting flattened images; it was a whole different view of the flowers. Pressed against the dirty translucent plastic, they took on new, compressed shapes and softer colors. Flecks of dirt and scratches in the tarps conveyed the feeling of Old European still life paintings.

I squeezed between the cars, nodded to a shabbily dressed man having a cigarette, and photographed the small masterpieces head on. Bright lights shining through the tarps and the ambient light reflecting off the plastic made it challenging. But it was worth the effort. It was the world through my eyes. It was right there for all to see, and it could have gone unnoticed but it caught my eye. Now, with a few clicks, I send it along to you.

More Weekly Photo Challenge entries can be seen here.

Seattle’s Pike Place Flower Market

Since 1907, growers have been bringing produce to Pike Place Market to sell.  76 stalls were built that first year, and now hundreds of farmers, businesses and craftspeople sell goods at Pike Place Market to millions of people every year.   Residents and tourists wander the market for fresh food, fresh flowers, interesting crafts, books, foreign newspapers…it’s a concentrated mix of ingredients.  Perched along a steep hill overlooking the water and loaded with specialty food stores, musicians, fishmongers, and crowds snacking on anything from felafel to freshly made cheese, it’s a great place to spend the afternoon in early spring, when rows of flower stalls packed with a brilliant riot of tulips and daffodils are adding their bright colors to the scene.

Many of the flowers you see at Pike Place are grown and sold by Hmong immigrants, some of whom have been here since the early 80’s.

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Outside the market, a flower cart loaded with buckets of tulips rests on the brick street. If it weren’t for the plastic buckets this could almost be a scene from a hundred years ago, but surprisingly, the brick roadbed was installed in the 1970’s to slow down car traffic.

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Plastic tarps create a wall between the market stalls and the street in warmer weather. When workers slide buckets of flowers back on the work tables, the flowers are pressed against the tarp. From the outside, the effect makes me think of an Old Master still life, its colors slightly obscured by centuries of dust and grime.

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The variety of tulips and daffodils is amazing. They’re beautiful from any angle.

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Yes, only $10.00 for these big, fresh bouquets! And you can ask the workers to add a little more of your favorite color, if you like.

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Here’s a link for the market.

My Kinda Culture

My kind of culture is nothing profound, but it can make my day.  Wednesday afternoon I sat down in a high quality French Bakery with a well made iced espresso (good coffee pulled right, a little milk, no sweetener, and not too much ice so I can sip slowly without my drink turning to brown water).  OK, I’m fussy!   I was saying, I sat down with a perfect iced espresso and an incredibly flaky croissant a la framboise (I’ve worked in bakeries, so I’m fussy here, too, and let me tell you, Le Panier does it right…the pastry is buttery and the jam is seedy and thick!)  What was I saying?  Right.  I sat down with a perfect iced espresso, a perfect croissant, in a lively-but-not-too-crazy-noisy French bakery in Seattle, and read the front section of the New York Times.  (Yes I’m fussy about that, too. The Seattle paper? Hugely disappointing. So I’m happy as a pig in s**t when someone leaves the Times at a cafe).  Culture my style.

Taken with my Android phone and edited with Perfect Effects.

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Many more looks at what culture means across this small, precious globe of ours can be found here. Most all of them are more profound than mine.

WHAT’S UP?

I love to look up –  always have – there are intriguing images to be found when you train your eyes to look at the world from different angles.

Sometimes to look up, I look down…

And sometimes I might get down on the ground to look up…

Up may be close at hand or far away into the treetops.

Whether at a cedar tree in a Seattle city park or an architectural gem on the High Line in New York, pointing the lens up rewards me.

Another muscular beauty on the High Line reveals its angles and reflects the clouds differently depending on where you stand.

The meditative expression and intricacies in the carving of this grand Buddha revealed themselves when I gazed up at Dia Tang Temple, a Seattle area Vietnamese Buddhists temple.

Looking up at a botanic garden delights my eyes with the soft pastel colors and underwater shapes of an akebia vine.

In a shady grove of cedars, fern fronds catch sunbeams and cast their shadows on one another. (The tilting LCD on my camera is indispensable when it comes to getting shots like this one.)

Looking at the reflection on the water, I imagine a frog’s-eye view of the grasses that edge the pool.

At the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the jostling angles of  Frank Gehry’s design form endlessly interesting compositions with Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, which looms overhead.

Maybe I shouldn’t have looked up (actually, for me, this is tantamount to an invitation!)

But if I didn’t look up, chances are I would have missed the way budding tree branches mix with their own reflections against a highrise.

When I looked skyward at a downtown building in New York, I focused my lens at a point midway up, ignoring the building’s foundation and its top, and something new happened.

But then New York is newness personified, and gawking at the skyline gives everyone a thrill.  Take that New York habit of looking high up with you wherever you go, point your camera or phone at what you see, and press that shutter.

There are many more ideas and views relating to what’s UP here, at the WordPress Daily Post Photo Challenge.