Archives for posts with tag: black ands white

Henna Hands

I captured this image at the foot of the Taj Mahal in March, 2002. Helen and I were at the tail end of nearly a year of traveling around the world on $30/day between the two of us (airfare, scuba diving and our one safari in Kenya were outside of that budget). In all, we spent two full days inside the Taj Mahal compound, watching the light change, Helen sketching in her diary, me taking the occasional photograph (see: limitations of shooting with film).

At one point during the first day, with the crowds picking up and the light directly above and probably at it’s least interesting, Helen and I ventured forward, removed our shoes and walked inside the mausoleum itself. Seeing the chamber built for the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal is a required visit, but the comparatively small space is less impressive than the building itself.

I was happy to get back outside, into the sunshine and where I could soak in the building’s famous exterior. That’s when I noticed this well-appointed woman and her tattooed hands.

As is my way, I approached her with my camera hanging from my neck. I smiled, pointed to her hands, and told her they were beautiful. She smiled and let me know it’s part of the wedding custom – she was getting married there, at the Taj Mahal. I asked if I could photograph her hands and that’s when she held out her hands as you see here.

I’ve since learned that this form of henna tattoo is called “mehndi” and is part of a larger Hindu wedding tradition. Among other folklore, one theory has it that the darker the henna, the more the bride will be loved by her husband and respected by her new in-laws. Perhaps one beloved tradition is that the bride isn’t allowed to do any work until the mehndi has faded away. In effect, across all fronts, darker is better.

Of course, the dark henna, meant to impress her husband and ward off the start of any work, was perfect for my camera and black and white film. What’s remarkable for me in the image is how all the elements come together – the intricate, dense and dark patterns painted on her hands offset by the also intricate but light and airy patterns on her sari, all separated by her symmetrical arms and series of bright bangles.

This is one of those images where everything came together in an instant to create, what for me, is the perfect moment. Shooting film – a resource I doled out carefully during a year of backpacking around the world – combined with the woman’s graciousness and clearly limited time, I took exactly one frame of her hands.

Clearly, I’m happy with how it worked out.

Steps in Shadow

This is one of those pictures. An interior designer visited us last week from Dallas. I’ve known her for years, but only over the phone and via emails. She came to North Carolina to see us and to tour the studio. Over dinner, the conversation landed on my photography and she commented that her favorite photograph was my shot “of the stairs.” That’s all she said. Stairs. “It’s so calm and has so much depth, I could look at that picture forever,” she said. I’ve captured thousands of images, but we both knew exactly which one she meant.

More than a decade ago, I sat next to a woman on a short flight from Raleigh to Nashville. She was the VP of sales for the southeast for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Digital photography was exploding, as were my fine art credentials. So I pitched her on the idea of my leading photo expeditions on one of their ships. That led to an introduction to the man in charge of on-board entertainment. And after six months of calls and a lunch meeting in Miami, I was hired to lead a photo cruise in Alaska for ten days.

Helen, kids and I did that together. Which, when I think about it, was remarkable seeing as Jordan was 1 1/2 years old and Tamar was 6 months. The Alaska cruise went well and Helen, kids and I were asked back, this time to lead photo tours in the Mediterranean. And not for ten days, but for six back-to-back one-week cruises. The entirety of those six weeks probably make a novel more than a blog post. I’ll save that for another time.

On our first day in Santorini, I led 15 people on a walk along the cliff’s edge of this fabled volcanic city. As in every tour I led for Regent, I had never before set foot in the location, had only a vague understanding of what I might find there and, as a result, I made up every bit of the photo expedition as I went along. Let’s just say, I got used to challenge and embraced the uncertainty of each day.

Santorini on that particular day was disappointingly overcast. The result was that the light was flat and contrasts lost. It was a day to shoot into the shadows, places that we would avoid on a sunny day. We found our fun in places we typically ignored and there was joy and pleasure in that.

At one point, we walked past these white stairs and I was struck by their beauty. I loved that they were painted white, a single shade of white, and yet there was depth and movement in the stairs – a result of angles and shadows. Only what I saw that first day was bland. I heard the music in my head, saw greatness before me, and realized that the music and the greatness didn’t actually exist in front of me – my imagination was filling in the blanks and envisioning what this image could look like on a clear, sunny day.

I took the picture anyway. Just in case I could tease something interesting out if it. It turned out I couldn’t. That was a dud.

Six week cruise, remember. Two weeks later, I was back in Santorini leading a different group, now 19 people, along the edge of the cliffs. Only this time it was sunny and the skies were that remarkable Greek Island blue. As I ate breakfast on the ship, I was thinking about these stairs and fairly confident I could find my way back to them.

Four hours later I was there, in the exact spot I had been in two weeks earlier. Only, this time, I was there with the light I had imagined having. And the image before me was as amazing and wondrous as I had imagined. The layers, depth, calm – all in a series of bisecting lines in a series of white stairs – is surprising. I agree with my friend from Dallas, I can get lost in this image for hours.

Easter in Juarez

In 2008, violence exploded in the Mexican border town of Juarez, lifting it to be listed by some as the murder capital of the world for 2008, 2009 and 2010. I suppose it’s fair to say that we didn’t visit Juarez because of this distinction but in spite of it.

Back in April of 2008, Helen, the kids and I found ourselves in El Paso, Texas to capture images in and around this iconic city. We had a rental car and, in hindsight, I wonder if there wasn’t some restriction against taking the car into Mexico. But take it into Mexico we did.

For the record, we had heard about all the murders in Juarez. But those murders were, near as we could tell, associated with organized crime and focused around drugs and prostitution. There were, as yet, no reports of tourists getting hurt or killed (maybe because there were no tourists?). And there was nothing to suggest that a day trip to the heart of Juarez was anything other than safe.

For a few days in El Paso, we asked people there about Juarez. Most folks said they would never go across the border and spoke in fear of what was happening there. But then there were the few who laughed and said that the danger was blown out of proportion – that the violence, while terrible, didn’t affect every day folks going about their lives and that they went to Juarez every week for one reason or another. I can’t say we had anything other than intuition to guide us – and our intuition told us to listen to the folks who actually crossed into Juarez and said it was safe.

And so we saddled up into our rental car one day during the week leading up to Easter Sunday and drove across the bridge that spanned the Rio Grande and entered Juarez. Getting into Mexico was easy enough. And we quickly found our way to the center of Juarez, found a parking lot where we left our rented SUV for the day.

I had a marvelous time capturing images in and around the town square. It was a festive time in Juarez and we enjoyed everything from the people to the cathedral and, of course, the food. The truth is, it was early in 2008 when Juarez’s troubles were just getting attention. The peak of the murder count in Juarez didn’t hit until 2010 – and I will readily admit that I wouldn’t have traveled to Juarez then. But in the Spring of 2008, it still seemed a reasonable place to visit.

It’s eight years later and I can still see in my mind’s eye many of the images I captured that day – that’s how memorable the scenes were for me. There were the cowboy boots lined up outside a store, the cathedral, the children on the street, the local photographer selling polaroids and then, of course, there was this scene. It’s one rabbit short of the classic ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ scene and even so, I find the two rabbits alongside the one girl engrossed in her candy entirely amusing.

There are perhaps three keys to capturing this image. The first is the most basic, to recognize the scene, to appreciate the story and decide that I wanted to capture it with my camera. The second key was to be comfortable standing in front of them and taking their picture, being sure to do so quickly enough that I didn’t give them time to react and pose. This translated to being able to get in position and have all the settings on the camera ready to go, so it was just a matter of lifting the camera to my eye, a quick focus and click the shutter. Finally, most importantly, I carried forward a lesson I had learned a decade earlier when after editing pictures I had taken in Thailand and Cambodia. I bent my legs and squatted so that I was eye to eye with the girl.

This last point makes the image for me. I tend not to like images in which we’re looking down at children. That’s not a photograph, but a snapshot of what we saw as an adult – in effect, a memory. If I want to capture an image of a person shorter than I am, for me at least, the right way to do so is to get the camera to eye level with that person. I did that here, and got the result I hoped for.

There are several fun subtleties in this image as well. The Woody & Buzz backdrop for one. The fact that the rabbits are sitting on a ledge and the girl is sitting below them on a chair – seems far too organized for what feels like a haphazard moment.

My biggest fear that entire day was, admittedly, a paranoid one – with Juarez in the news for drug wars, I imagined that someone realizing that we’re tourists destined to return to El Paso and the USA would hide drugs somewhere in the undercarriage of our car as it sat in the lot, only to have those drugs discovered and Helen and I arrested as we re-entered the States. In case you’re concerned, this didn’t happen.

Needless to say, our day in Juarez was entirely uneventful. And I was able to capture a few terrific images for the effort. I’m glad we went.

One World

I recently selected this image as the cover for my upcoming book, “One World.” Yes, we’re publishing a book of my B&W global images – that should be available by June 1st, possibly sooner. More on that in a bit. First, this image – which I captured at JFK International airport in 2009. That’s our daughter Tamar on the left and our son Jordan on the right, at the time, ages three and five.

We were on our way to Barcelona and more than a month of travel in Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco and England – and here were our kids sitting in a picture window at the airport staring out into the abyss of the airport tarmac. My cameras were safely tucked away in my bag and, truthfully, my thoughts were about getting through the over-crowded boarding area and onto settled into our seats and not at all about the possibility of being presented with an intriguing image. But there it was in front of me.

I knew immediately that this was a great shot I needed to capture and so I dug out my camera, made sure I had my 35-70 lens on it, framed the shot, adjusted the aperture and captured the image. It’s a challenge for me to separate the image from the fact that these are, in fact, my kids. I do love this shot because of the tabula rasa of youth, staring out into the unknown adventure of travel – but then how much am I influenced by the fact that it’s Jordan and Tamar? I’ll never know.

Still, this is one of a select handful of images that I come back to time and again. When I curated the collection “One World” I was adamant that this image be included. And when I turned that collection into a book, I knew before I began that this image would be the closing picture. There are more than one hundred images from all over the world – and this shot, of two kids staring out into an airport, about to embark on not just the trip in front of them, but on a lifetime of travel, this was the perfect capstone to the collection.

What I never expected, however, was that this would be the cover shot. There were so many more likely candidates for the cover. My shot of the pyramids at dawn comes to mind. Or my shot of the workers in front of the Taj Mahal. There are many obvious choices. But when we looked at those various options mocked up on the cover of the book, they felt expected. The didn’t, as a trusted co-worker offered to me, make one want to pick up the book and see what’s inside.

That’s when I offered up this picture as the cover shot – and it just clicked, and not just for me, but for all of us who were working on the book.

I’ll add one footnote about this image. It’s a shot that’s technically challenging to capture. You’ve got inside light, inside subjects, glass and then outside light and subjects. The answer for me is simply to bracket (shoot at different exposure settings) and see which one comes out the best, understanding that with a digital camera, over exposure is always preferable to under-exposure (there may be details in the blown out areas that we can pull out, but unlikely to be able to get information out of the areas that register as black).

There are times when leaving the camera in the bag is clearly the path of least resistance. It’s times like that when I recall an amazing shot of sky, clouds and sun I missed in the mountains of Tanzania once because I didn’t want to hop off a bus a mile before my destination (I thought I’d walk back, but by the time I did, the shot was gone) – or the handful of times I didn’t make the extra effort required to visit a new location when I was within striking distance. I did that on this day in 2009, fought inertia, pulled out my cameras and captured an image that unbeknownst to me at the time would, five years later, become the cover shot to my next book.

We were in Barcelona four years ago this month… I still remember the pain of arriving there in the wee hours of the morning at the tail end of a red-eye flight, two kids in tow, and having to make it to 2PM before we could check into our hotel room. We had a great week in Barcelona during which we almost didn’t go into Casa Batlló, often known as the Gaudi Apartments. Jordan was five at the time and Tamar was three and, given all that we were juggling, we seriously considered skipping the chance to walk the inside of this famous Gaudi building.

What a mistake that would have been.

In our defense, the outside of the building is spectacular enough that we thought I had captured the important shots. And with the sun shining, it seemed equally important to get to the next site for more pictures. And then there were our kids. Jordan and Tamar are great travelers, but we still weren’t sure that walking around the inside of a building would hold their attention long enough that I would be able to get the space I needed to capture compelling images.

But we were there – in Barcelona and standing in front of this amazing building. Common sense, thankfully, prevailed. Of course we shelled out for the admission tickets not knowing if the kids would give us five minutes or 15 minutes to tour the building. Turned out the kids gave us 90 minutes and they were quickly and happily as fascinated as we were.

Tamar, all of 3-years-old, later drew some wiggly pictures and proudly declared them her, “Gaudi House” drawings. The amazing thing about this house is that it got me thinking about Picasso and Frank Gehry – Gaudi’s work must have influenced both… The inside of Casa Batlló, for those who haven’t been, is spectacular and not to be missed.

Among the many treats to photograph was this interior window. I shot this handheld without a flash. The light struck me as perfect, allowing the details of the picture window and it’s surroundings to register, while giving us this terrific shadow effect. I like the peace and serenity of the scene as well as the unexpectedness of the window itself. Helen suggested capturing the picture with a person in silhouette and I did it both ways, with and without the person. In the end, Helen was right and this is certainly a compelling image.

In many ways, both subtle and obvious, I suppose my life is a creative collaboration with Helen. This image stands as a terrific example of her influence and help on all of my creative endeavors.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of those places, like the Pyramids perhaps, that one hears about for our entire lives and which must, should the opportunity present itself, be seen in person. For me, of course, the thrill was to be able to photograph this famous structure. What this meant, in the end, was working the angles of light and trying to obscure the scaffolding which wrapped part of the tower. It also meant looking for a way to photograph the building which captured my imagination, not simply my sense of history and culture. Not that doing the latter is a waste of time, it isn’t. Here’s one of my images which brings together a statue from the front of the Leaning Tower and the tower itself. The clouds help make the shot for me.

Black and white photo of Leaning Tower of Pisa

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