Category Archives: Observational

Gallery Art

I may have mentioned this before, but a get a double kick out of art galleries, observing both the art and people observing art. These images are all long-exposure photographs taken inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, two years ago.

I have not been shooting a lot recently, and when I have, it’s generally been with my phone, shared via Instagram, with the intent to capture a moment of something I think is noteworthy or collect material for future collages. I haven’t planned a shoot or taken the time to work on long-exposure motion and over-exposed stuff like these shots in while, so it was nice to get back to them, sorting through some of the stuff that’s accumulated in the archives the last few years.
There is something about this style of photography that still really engages my imagination. The combination of realism–they are photographs of real things–with impressionism and abstraction creating so much narrative space within the image. Such interesting juxtapositions between stillness and motion. I also think the audience for this sort of photography has grown a lot since I started doing it ten or fifteen years ago. Hope you like them.

Hanagasa Dance Festival, Part Two

Ito, Japan. October 2014.

Admittedly, I have never paid much attention to clothing or fashion in particular. There were some small boutiques in Gracia, the neighbourhood of Barcelona we used to live in that created some noteworthy designs, things I liked as art pieces as they hung in the window displays of the stores. Clothing that conjured characters and suggested fictions, clothing for a parallel world recognizable as our own and yet unfamiliar at the same time. But more than anywhere I’ve been, Barcelona included, and with Paris perhaps, as a close second, people in Japan dress. Clothing here, whether traditional or contemporary, or even cosplay, fits and is structured so that I have become more aware here than anywhere, of cuts and shapes and lines and textures and colours and patterns. And movement. Perhaps it is the filmmaker in me, but I am always fascinated by the movement.

Hanagasa Dance Festival, Part One

Ito, Japan. October 2014.

We traveled to Ito for a quick weekend away, ultimately made quicker by the coming of a typhoon, but as we got off the train and began to find out way to our ryocan, we found that the street we needed to walk down had been taken over by a parade. So we wheeled our big suitcase down the sidewalk and fished out our cameras along the way. When we got to the hotel, we found a flyer for Hanagasa Dance Festival. The man at the reception pointed to it and apologized to us. It happens only once a year, he said, we’d just missed it.

Extraordinary Ordinary

Yokohama, Japan. September 2014.

My partner Monna is offering an e-course over at MonnaMcDiarmid.com, called The Geography of Now. It’s a six week course with an exercise every day in noticing, photography and what Monna calls “skinny prose,” a form of narrative verse. Today’s exercise is one I used to use with my photography students. The idea is to take 10 or more photographs of the same object in order to find an extraordinary way of seeing an ordinary thing. It’s a good exercise, worth doing if you’ve never tried it.

For tonight’s exercise, I thought about my favourite wall in Yokohama. It’s not an entirely ordinary object I guess. It looks like there was ivy growing on it at one point, and now the remnants of it are plastered to the wall like footprints or snake tracks. I’ve photographed this wall before, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to really explore what continues to draw me to it.

{I used the same Instagram filter on all of these photographs so that the primary difference between them is perspective.}

The Stories In The Story

Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan. May 2014.



There’s a writing exercise I use with my students where I give them an image–usually something clipped from a magazine–and tell them to write about what they see for a set period of time. Then I give them a blank sheet of card-stock paper with a small square cut out of it. I tell them to put the card-stock over their image and move it around until it reveals some interesting detail, then write only about that smaller part of the image for the same amount of time. Often they write completely different stories or poems, about completely different things and from completely different perspectives. And yet, when you pull back, sometimes it’s difficult to see that all those stories are happening simultaneously.

It’s not really surprising then, that this is also a pretty important idea in photography. In many ways, the art of photography is the art of cropping. We use our cameras to crop the visible world down to the frame within the lens. Once we’ve taken the photograph, we can crop hundreds of different stories from the same frozen moment by shifting our attention and narrowing or expanding our frame to suit. How does the story of hands on a smartphone change if we are also given a glimpse of the face that is using it? What if we only see part of the face that’s using it–lips slightly parted in what? exasperation, exclamation, desperation, wonder? How important is the story of that phone if we move it to the side of the frame and centre on a woman in a jean-jacket or a man piggy-backing his boy and carrying a folded stroller?

Each of these images is cropped from the same image (below). Which story is the most compelling to you?

Walking with Friends

Yokohama, Japan. May 10, 2014.

Some days are for walking.

It happens that two of my closest friends were born on the same day, a year apart. Seems like a grand coincidence to me, though I’m sure the astrologers would say that it makes perfect sense.

Every year, when their birthday comes around, I try to spend at least part of the day walking, taking pictures of what their birthday would look like if they could spend it with me, since I am so very rarely able to spend it with either of them. This year, their birthdays fell on a Saturday, a day without obligations, a day I could spend as it chose to unfold, the kind of day that is best spent with friends.

Is it odd that thinking of far away friends can make you more present where you are?

Some of the very best things are odd.