November 2011 Archives

Folk Art

One of our favorite stores in Old Town Albuquerque is Hispaniae. It's full of lively, colorful folk art and crafts from Mexico and other Latin American countries. In the little courtyard out back, there were some charming (and charmingly displayed) ceramics and metal sculptures. (Click to enlarge)

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The Zia sun sign was on a gated door in Old Town Albuquerque. I was initially taken with the symmetrical but dynamic geometry, augmented by the bars and shadows. With the image on my computer screen, however, I wondered how it would look in black and white, and then how it would look with a different color treatment. These are some of the variations that pleased me. (Click photos to enlarge them.)

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The original, with some modest tweaking in Ligntroom

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Original converted to B&W in Lightroom

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Darker and higher contrast, after perusing a book of Wynn Bullock photos (especially some of his later abstracts).

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Mild posterization (level 4) in Photoshop Elements


One of the most fun things about walking around with a small camera in your pocket is the ability to grab casual snapshots of things that catch your eye. I imagine that painters do this with their sketchbooks, and writers with their journals. It's even easier for us photographers. Here are three from last week in Albuquerque. (Click photos to enlarge them.)

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Hispanic Cultural Center

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Old Town

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Pigeons against the sky, Old Town

Albuquerque - San Felipe de Neri Church

We were down in Albuquerque for a few days last week, and wandered through Old Town, which we hadn't done for a while. It was rather empty of tourists, but visually interesting as always.

According to Wikipedia "San Felipe de Neri Church is a historic Catholic church located on the north side of Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Built in 1793, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. Originally, Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez named the church San Francisco Xavier, after the Viceroy of New Spain. Shortly afterward, The Duke of Albuquerque changed the name to San Felipe, after the King Philip of Spain.[1] San Felipe de Neri was established in 1706 under the direction of Fray Manuel Moreno and initially stood to the northwest of the Plaza. The original building was completed in 1719. The original church building collapsed in 1792 after a heavy rain and was replaced by the current structure the following year. The towers were added in 1861, a parish school was constructed in 1878, and a convent for the Sisters of Charity was built on the west side of the church in 1881. Today the church complex is undergoing extensive renovations inside and out."

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The weather and light in Albuquerque were wonderful this past week. The bright, shining towers against the deep blue sky were striking.

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The landscaping is very pretty in a typical New Mexico way, with cactus framed against an adoble-colored wall.

Behind the Scenes - Bookstores Distribution Center

The University of Minnesota bookstore sells books, to be sure; but the thing that first strikes a visitor is the rows and piles of sweatshirts and other clothing paraphernalia. It turns out that these are received, stored, and shipped out from a huge warehouse space off campus: the Bookstores Distribution Center.


Boxes of UM-branded clothing stacked high and as far as the eye can see.


A student working in the shipping section.


The only books stored here are sold-back textbooks that won't be used next semester, so-called "spec books". They are kept for a while, then posted on Amazon for resale.

Behind the Scenes - University Bookstore

I'm a devotee of bookstores, and the University of Minnesota has a good one. But until now I've never been behind the scenes, where the ordering, delivery, etc., is done. These photos were taken in mid-semester, when stocking, selling, and buying-back are not as frantic as at the beginning and end of the semester. But it's still a lively scene.


UPS delivering books


Affixing "Used" labels to textbooks


Monitoring security cameras

Cooking for Students

Continuing my project of photographing behind the scenes at the University of Minnesota, I visited the open kitchen at Sanford Hall dormitory as lunch was being prepared. The students have a wide variety of attractive choices, and eat well. (Click photos to enlarge them.)

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Roast chickens waiting to be carved

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Making pizza with a braided crust

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Grilling cheeseburgers

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Preparing made-to-order pasta

Graffiti Faces

On Sunday afternoon we went to the exhibition "Edo Pop" at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It combines selections from the museum's outstanding collection of 19th C ukiyo-e woodblock prints with two rooms of contemporary pieces that in some way refer to the earlier work. A big painting by the American graffiti artist Gaijin Fujita, titled "Crew", caught my eye. According to the wall legend, "This painting is a tribute to Fujita's graffiti crew, picturing its members as Kabuki actors against the contemporary backdrop of a heavily tagged wall."

I was struck by the connection between these faces and those in the graffiti-inspired mural by Ryan Dooley that I've been posting recently. Here are some from each work, interspersed. (Click to enlarge).

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Some more faces from the mural by Ryan Dooley outside the Whole Music Club at the University of Minnesota. Somehow, these fit the mood of anxiety and self-absorption that so many are feeling these days. (Click photos to enlarge them.)





Dramatic Tone

The prodigiously prolific street photographer Gary Winogrand once said "I photograph to see what something looks like when it's photographed." What he seems to have had in mind is that a photograph captures details, juxtapositions, and interactions that the photographer may not have noticed when taking the picture, but which (if the photographer is lucky) change an ordinary scene into something special.

The three photographs below have a purpose similar to Winogrand's, but with a techie slant: What does a piece of architecture (the atrium of Nils Hasselmo Hall at the University of Minnesota, where I have my office) look like when it's photographed using the "dramatic tone" art setting on my Olympus XZ-1? Pretty interesting, I think: warm, vivid, and somewhat strange, even a simple brick wall.

I just got the seasonal Eddie Bauer catalog; a lot of the clothing photos in it look like they've been touched by a similar technique.

(Click photos to enlarge them.)




Art Filters

One can get in a rut, taking photos only as the digital sensor normally captures them and applies standard processing. I decided to try out the "Art Filters" of my Olympus XZ-1, which apply various tweaks to the color rendition, intensity, sharpness, etc. of a scene. The subject was the spectacular helical sculpture with LED base in the new Science Teaching and Student Services Building at the University of Minnesota. The LED lights change color periodically, which I didn't count on, but that doesn't really affect the comparisons. (Click photos to enlarge.)

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The normal rendition

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Pop Art (Super-bright colors)

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Soft Focus

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Grainy Film

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Pin Hole (Note the darkened corners)

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Diorama (Out of focus except in the center)

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Dramatic Tone (Sort of a gritty, over-the-top HDR effect that I like a lot.)

Amazing what a little turn of a dial on a modern digital camera can do! Great fun, and lots of room for future explorations.

Colors and Faces

The Ramsey Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, MN, where we live, has many beautiful old trees. They eventually get diseased and die, but instead of being turned into wood chips, the lower trunks of some are turned into sculptures by talented wood carvers. This is one of my favorites, of a very stern lady with a big hat, umbrella, and large bustle (not shown). She's backed up here by some of the last bright fall colors from a fine maple tree in a yard on Summit Avenue.

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(Click to enlarge)

Here are a couple more faces from the mural outside the Whole Music Club at the University of Minnesota. The colors work well with those of the maple tree, even if the faces clearly come from a different era than that of the formidable lady.


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Is a photo of a work of art art?

Is a photo of a work of art art?

It depends. A straight-on documentary shot, maybe for a catalog - definitely not. But a photo showing the context, such as Edward Steichen's Balzac, The Silhouette - 4 a.m., definitely yes.

Here's on of mine, from the Walker Art Center's recent show of Alex Soth's photography. I think the presence of the spectator, with her cocked head and clenched hands, interacting with the ambiguous expression and pose of Soth's subject, gives the scene a psychological tension that makes it esthetically interesting.

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(Click to enlarge)

Instead of putting the work in a broader context, one may focus in on details. I had fun doing this recently with the grand mural - about 75 feet long and 8 feet high - by Ryan Dooley in the corridor leading to the Whole Music Club in the basement of Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota.

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(Click to enlarge)

Photographing the entire mural as a panorama would be pointless, except for documentary purposes. But there are many intriguing details, especially the faces. Here are two that I think stand on their own both as esthetically satisfying images and because humans have an intrinsic attraction to faces, even fantastically distorted ones.


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Works of art often appropriate aspects of earlier work.. Or as Picasso is supposed to have said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal."

De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est

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Pompidou Museum, Paris (Click to enlarge)

Why do some types of photographs appeal to us, and not others?

A week ago, Kirk Tuck, one of my favorite photo-bloggers, asked the question on his Flickr discussion group page, "Can someone show me, or explain to me, the appeal of landscape photography?". A lively discussion ensued.

Tuck also wrote that he had re-read Susan Sontag's "On Photography", and found it much more valuable on a second reading. I've always been impatient with deep philosophical writing about photography and the other arts; but Tuck is a sensible guy, so I thought I'd see what Sontag had to offer. The web site of the University of Minnesota Libraries reported that the book was on the shelf, so I walked over yesterday, hoping to check it out. Alas, it wasn't there, but near where it should have been was another book of presumably similar import (and greater readability), "Diana and Nikon", a collection of New Yorker essays by Janet Malcolm. The first few sentences of the first essay, "East and West", reframe Tuck's question in a startling manner:

"A woman of about fifty looks at a Marin exhibition in bewilderment. She turns to Steiglitz: 'Is there someone who can explain these pictures to me? I don't understand them at all. I want to know why they arouse no emotion in me.' Before Steiglitz realizes what he is saying, he replies, 'Can you tell me this: Why don't you give me an erection?'" (Quoted from Alfred Steiglitz: An American Seer by Dorothy Norman)

Malcolm goes on, in an amusing and enlightening essay, to compare and contrast the photographic influences and personalities of the rigid and constricted Steiglitz (New York: East) and the open, adventurous Edward Weston (California: West). According to Ben Maddow (a more reliable biographer of Weston, according to Malcolm, than Dorothy Norman was of Steiglitz) it seems that Weston hardly ever met a woman who didn't give him an erection; he had a large number of simultaneous affairs.

In other words, we're each turned on by different things, and explaining why would require a deeper understanding of developmental psychology, genetics, and environmental influences than contemporary science is capable of providing.

University of Minnesota - Campus Club Kitchen (2)

A couple more photos from the start of my "Behind the Scenes" project.

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(Click to enlarge)

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