Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cats Space People Cup d-oeil Bangkok 2012

Part One

They came right up to me, no matter how street worn or how much experience, they came up to me, some of them got on their bellies, while others, fresh from flesh-demanding fights just looked at me, not afraid. They let me scratch their necks, they closed their eyes and purred.

I thought of stray cats in Fresno, how they ran way from me, afraid for their lives, and I remembered when I was 13 years old, my friend Walter, how one night we were walking behind the grocery store and a cat came up to us. 

Walter cooed it, and the cat cautiously came to him, but then he picked it up and threw it against the back wall of the grocery store, almost killing it, the cat wobbling away to Walter’s laughter. 

“How could you??" I cried, in tears.

"What’s wrong with you?" he said.

These cats in Bangkok made me think of love.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Two Days with the New Cool Pix

Okay, after having crashed my hard drive, where I stored all my summer pictures, I finally cracked the code and accessed the photos.

And here’s some shots in Paris with a Coolpix S910.

I lost my other Coolpix in Italy, somewhere in Tuscany, so when I got to Paris I bought another one.

Out of the hundreds of shots I took on the first few days with it, I cut them down to less than a hundred, but I won’t post a hundred photos in one entry, that would be too much like an unfocused essay.

If a collection of photos is an essay, too many photos make the essay long and boring and maybe unfocused.

But these photos in this entry are not really an essay.

There is no unfolding theme other than getting a new camera in a new city.

This is more like a free verse poem, as the images make their own meaning, their own connections, with a little help from the choices I made on what to show and what not to show, based more on intuition that vision.
I’m an amateur.

But I think the key to sharing one’s photos is not sharing too many.

Pick out a few, even from the few that you picked out from the rest.

I’m not sure how I made the choices here, why I chose some over the others, but as I went the shots the first time, I stopped on what struck me, starred it, and kept
going through the thousands of others.

Out of the hundred or so that struck me, that I starred, I forced myself to pick even less.

No more than 20 shots per blog, I told myself.

An arbitrary number, or perhaps an anthropological choice, 20 having symmetry, seeming like a meaningful number.

Or maybe 22.

I’ve always liked that number, for no reason at all, so 22.

Here’s the first 22 photos from the first 2 days of the new Coolpix.

Friday, July 6, 2012

So Much for the Coolpix Challenge. Well….Maybe not.

I lost my Coolpix 9100 somewhere in Italy, I think in Tuscany, between Florence and Sienna.

For the first several days in Rome I took it everywhere, shot whatever stuck me, but the S9100 I found has so many limitations. 

I often became frustrated, especially at  night when the demands of shutter spend and aperture become more pressing.

What I wanted to capture and what the Coolpix was able to capture were so different. Rome is beautiful at night.

After four, five days, I took out my DSLR and snapped a bunch of shots (none of which are featured here, not now).

It felt so much more comfortable, and I was happy to  have control over how much light I could let in. In fact, when I discovered that my Coolpix S9100 was lost somewhere in Tuscany, I didn’t feel too bad. Felt, in fact, kind of relieved.

I wondered if on some level I had lost the camera on purpose, although I don’t think I did.

In fact, I remember telling myself, “Do not lose the camera just so you can buy a better one.”

These shots of Italy are done with the S9100.

There are hundreds of more, of course, but these particular ones I felt came closet to capturing what I wanted to capture, or to seeing the way I wanted to see.

Also, taking photos is like writing poetry. You could write thousands of lines, and if you come up with just one or two good ones, well then you’re doing all right.

I’m  not sure if I found a photographic voice yet, but I like shooting people better than things., although I must admit an attraction to empty chairs and old doors. 

Like paintings, I enjoy those that have people in them over landscapes, although I can certainly appreciate beauty in those as well.

Before I lost the camera, I knew that there were superior point-and-shoots, so when I got to Paris I bought a Coolpix 310.  It’s great. 

It has manual capability, wherein I can choose my own shutter speed and aperture, something the S9100 wouldn’t allow.

The only weakness is that it doesn’t shoot in raw. 

Still, I feel so much more freedom with the new point-and-shoot, and it’s small enough to put it in my pocket and pull it out when the spirit moves me.
Surprised to see so many tourists using their iPads to shoot.

Here are some shots that I took in here Paris.

Yesterday I walked for hours, and whenever a little voice inside of me said, take this picture, I did. Even when I thought the little voice was wrong.

So the challenge is on.

Will I find that this new point-and-shoot lives up to the DSLR?

Next I’ll post some Italy pictures I took with the DSLR.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Coolpix Challenge: Rome, Tuscany, Paris, Geneva

I’ve travelled a lot, far beyond the norm of my class and culture (working class Chicano), and for years my friends and family would tell me, “Take lots of pictures!”

I told them I’d write to them instead, because I wasn’t going to take a camera.

I went to countries I had never expected to visit, Cuba, Poland, Germany, but I never brought a camera, because I believed that to travel with a camera would distract me from experiencing the cities I entered.

And maybe for me, back then, I was right.

Maybe I would have went into a new country or city concerned with finding a good photo and would have missed out on all the experiences I had walking alone at any hour.  

I remember walking by myself in Warsaw at two in the morning, collecting memories, the light and the glass, the shadows, and I didn’t need or want a camera.

The last time I spent the summer living in Paris, I used to look down on tourists with cameras, silently scoffing at them, impatient with them because there they were trying to get the Eifel Tower in every shot, and because at the Louvre, they clamored around the Mona Lisa, her smile protected behind glass, and they stood on tippy toes and shot unfocused pictures of her, her features lost in the glare of their own flash.

And because I was “living” there, i.e., renting an apartment in the Place Godot, across the small plaza from Picasso’s Paris studio, I felt like I was somehow not a tourist.

I wouldn’t have been seen carrying a camera, but one time, as I stood smoking a cigarette in front of the grave of Julio Cortázar, a young Argentine woman asked me if I would take a photo of her and his tombstone, and she handed me her point-and-shoot.

I took it quick, a bit too eager to hand it back to her and get out of there.

I saw what a good camera could do. As you know, the initials stand for Single Lens Replacement, because they have good, stable bodies and various levels and types of lenses. I have four lenses now, which I fit into the body of my camera, depending on the shot I want to capture.

I’m also going to visit the grave of Borges, who is buried in Geneva.

And I want to take pictures.

Getting that camera made me face what I had been avoiding all my life:

I am my father.

He took pictures, built his own dark room in our garage, had thousands of dollars in equipment, lighting, meters, lenses, and a plethora of cameras.

I have been wanting to take pictures all my life, but I denied that part of me, because to accept that I was a photographer was to accept that I was my father’s son, but now, a bit less concerned with my image of self, my father now old and under dementia, I have given into the lens of my father.

I am my father.
My father took this shot circa 1968. The women with the black coat and blonde hair is my mother. Not sure who the others are.

I take a camera everywhere, usually my SLR.

Now I see what a self-righteous tourist I was when I “lived” in the Place Godot.

Now I don’t care what I think of me.

I’m no longer trying to impress myself with images of my self.

When we travel, I have my camera and I take pictures.

So screw you self-righteous Chacón “living” in Paris.
(And if there’s no change of season, how can you say you’ve lived somewhere? At most, you spent one summer there).

Now I just want to take pictures, and now I try to blend in as a tourist, so I can take street photography and get candid shots, although what I think is beautiful may not have anything to do with the monuments that make the city I’m visiting so famous and full of tourists.

Photos are like haikus or short poems, short moments, images that somehow capture what I am capable of feeling.

This is one way of saying what a powerful photo contains. A good photo is a glimpse into the sublime. In an earlier post, I’ve talked about the image as a wormhole, and I guess if I were to try and say what it is I seek in an image, I’m seeking wormholes.

Like most little kids who grew up to be writers, I’m still looking to get glimpses into parallel universes, and strong images do that for me.

Here's a photo I took at Dinah's in West LA.

This photo, if you look close, there seems to be some long-robed angel looking over the scene.
See her in the long robe?  This is not photoshop. This was in the image and although I may not have been aware of it at the time, it may be one of the reasons the image struck me and I shot.

 This image struck me before I noticed this detail.

The image is a Jacob’s ladder.  It reaches through the veil and allows me to see other realities, to see light spilling from the other side.


Sounds dramatic, but you get the point.

So this summer Sasha and I will be travelling to Italy, and then we'll spend most of the summer in Paris.

I planned on bringing my SLR, but then an idea came to me.

Why not play with resistance by NOT taking my SLR, but taking my point and shoot instead?

Like most photo geeks, I have a point-and-shoot that I slip in my pocket, in case I see a texture that I might want to use later in Photoshop, a stone wall, a brick bridge, clouds in the sky.

I use a Coolpix S9100.

It doesn’t have automatic capability, and you cannot shoot in raw, but it takes pretty good pictures. 

All the pictures in this entry, other than the ones taken by my father, are taken with the Coolpix S9100.

So the challenge is this:  I’m leaving my SLR at home.

I want to push the boundaries of this point-and-shoot, know how to use it so intuitively that every setting, every condition of light and depth, will come to me as if from my body, and snap! I’ll get the perfect shot.

I want to work within the limitations of the camera, to push its boundaries.

If there is a shot I cannot take, I want it to be because the camera is not capable of taking that shot, not because I wasn’t quick enough on controls to know what setting I should have used, and like in every point-and-shoot, there’s a lot of them.

Close-up, Food, Museum, Pets, Night landscape, Indoor party, Snow, Beach, and on and on. . .

Can I outgrow a point and shoot?

I want to try.

I want to know the limitations of the Coolpix so that I can truly know when the SLR is necessary. Under what circumstances would it not be enough?

A Coolpix S9100 might be enough for me.

One of my photo heroes is Henri Cartier Bresson, whose Paris street photos are among the best, helping to define the genre of street photography, and he shot everything with a Leica 55mm. One
lens, one camera for everything he shot.

And let’s face facts: The Leica is a great camera, but the technology back then cannot compare with what your average point-and-shoot can do today.

Today an iPhone camera has a lens has an f stop of f2.4, letting in more light than the most expensive lenses on my SLR. 

What if I find in doing this experiment that my SLR might be more for my ego than necessity?

I’ve even been tempted to buy an better SLR than the one I have now, which is a Nikon D5000, which many camera geeks will tell you is a starter camera.

But before I feed my ego and upgrade my amateur equipment, I want to know in my gut why I need a “better” camera.

This concept reminds me of my father, the photographer:

When I was a kid, I wanted to play electric guitar and be in a rock band. I was going to be famous.

I was going to play lead guitar so hauntingly that it would be spooky.

This is me when I wanted to rock out, taken by my father.
But I needed the best electric guitar out there, professional like the ones used by my guitar heroes, Santana, Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton.

For Christmas one year I asked my parents for a Gibson with a Marhsall amp.

“Horse crap!” my dad said. “You don’t even know how to play.”

I reminded him that I was taking lessons.

On Christmas, my parents did get me an electric guitar, and although it was a used generic brand, it was nice.

They didn’t get me an amp, but my dad hooked up a speaker for me that he found at the secondhand store, and he put a chord in my guitar and it worked, a tinny, distorted sound, but it worked.

“If you outgrow this equipment,” my father said. “I promise you I’ll get you a better amp.”

I never did out grow it.

I quit playing guitar.

And although I don’t think I’ll give up taking pictures any time soon, let’s see if I outgrow the Coolpix S9100.

All pictures taken on the Coolpix S9100