Archives for posts with tag: museum

Woman at Kailasanatha Temple

Imagine walking up to a hill and deciding to remove all the vegetation and then carve a multi-storied temple out the underlying rock. That what the regional Indian King Krishna decided – and did! – in the 8th century. Helen and I visited the temple in the spring of 2002 and it remains one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen and photographed.

The Temple is located in Ellora just outside of Aurangabad and near the Ajanta caves. Nearly every structure in the world is built from the bottom up. Think of the Great Pyramids as an obvious example. One giant stone laid on top of another giant stone until a structure exists that takes one’s breath away.

At the world heritage sight in Petra, Jordan there are some rather elaborate architectural carvings made to look like buildings. The difference is that Petra, carved as early as 312BC, is merely a series of barren caves with ornate facades. And while the facades look wonderful, they have no architectural integrity. The facades are entirely decorative. The closest I’ve seen to what exists in Ellora were the rock cut churches of Ethiopia in Lalibela – churches cut out of solid stone and dating back to roughly 1200. But even those, as magnificent as they are, pale in comparison to what happened in India.

The date isn’t precisely known, but evidence indicates that it was during the 8th century when Indian carvers stood atop a small mountain of granite and began carving. Short of having a drone (non-existent in 2002) or a helicopter (not in my budget), it’s challenging to capture the grandeur of the entire temple, made up of more than one building as well as buildings of multiple stories. And so when perched atop a hill overlooking the temple, my eye wandered to details that could tell the story for me.

For me the story is about the splendor of the architecture, the sheer enormity of what was accomplished here. To capture this, I decided to focus my attention on the elephant carvings at the foot of the temple. Of course, the statues by themselves don’t tell the story – one needs the added effect of the woman in the image for scale. It’s terrific for the image that she’s wearing a sari – that places us squarely in India. I watched the woman walk slowly and with what imagined was a measure of peace into my frame from right to left. As thrilled as I was to have her walk into my viewfinder, I also struggled with the light. The entire side of the temple was in the shade with the sun peering over the far right corner.

Were I shooting today, I would be shooting digitally with lots of memory space. I would easily snap 20 frames as she moved across the temple. At the start, she would be in the far right corner, I’d have to shift the camera to the right to accommodate her position without crowding her in the corner of the frame. The challenge would be an excess wash of light from the sun. But no matter, with digital equipment, I would capture everything and suffer the time-intensive editing consequences later on.

But this was 2002 and I was shooting film. Film, I might add, that was a precious commodity for me back then. I didn’t have the luxury of clicking off more than a few frames, and ideally would take only one.

I remember seeing a contact sheet from famed photographer Garry Winnogrand once. Every frame on a roll of 36 images was a completely different image. At least on the contact sheet I saw, Winnogrand didn’t work a scene – he found his perfect shot in every situation, captured it and moved on. That’s what I endeavored to become and – with severely limited film resources on our round-the-world journey – what I needed to do here.

I waited until the woman had walked as far along the edge as I was comfortable having her, just before reaching the first corner. I weighed the challenge of capturing enough of the temple to give a sense of depth and receding into the distance – as well as providing a mystery as to the height – and weighed all of that against the blown out brightness I knew would overcome the top right corner. All of this happens quickly and in the moment, I clicked the shutter and captured this image.

There are times when I look at this photograph and am frustrated with the blown out corner. I wish it didn’t have to be there. But when I consider the alternatives to framing the image, I realize that the image is, for me, already perfect. I suppose if I have any doubt, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston – a venerable collector of fine art photography – acquired one of the limited edition prints of this image for their permanent collection.

Bravo to the Indians who constructed this. And thanks to the miracle of photography for permitting me to capture this image.

Rome!

My first trip to a city is typically filled with running from landmark to landmark, capturing my version of the most iconic structures. That first visit is always tense as I race the light and distances to make the most of my time. The second visit, by contrast, is much more relaxed and tends to result in a broader more insightful collection of work. I liken it to watching a movie – each time you watch it, you find new treasures that you’d missed before. The same is true, for me, when photographing a city.

Helen and I first visited Rome in 2005. Our son Jordan was 18 months old. I can remember distinctly pushing his rickety Costco stroller over the ancient cobblestoned streets, Helen with the day bag filled with diapers and food, me with my cameras on my back. Our second trip to Rome came nearly 18 months later, this time with Helen, Jordan and our then one-year-old daughter Tamar. We plied the streets as a family, this time pushing a sturdy double stroller that felt more like an SUV compared to the Yugo we had brought the first time, diaper bag underneath, daypack on Helen’s back and 30 pounds of camera gear on my back. Those were good times.

This being our second time in Rome, we were a lot more relaxed. We were after a few shots I still wanted to capture, but mostly we were exploring for fun and headed wherever the light and my eye took us with little pressure on time and hardly a shot list. More often than not, that’s when magic happens.

One shot I wanted to capture was of the Vatican with Saint Angelo’s Bridge in the foreground. To get this shot means walking out on the Ponte Umberto bridge in the morning, the sun rising in the east and throwing its light over your shoulder as you face the Vatican to the west. As we waited to cross Piazza dei Tribunali, the crossing traffic came to a stop and this scene unfolded before me. A well dressed woman, on her scooter – presumably on her way to work – with her dog sitting placidly at her feet. At that moment, I didn’t care about the Vatican, the light, or the bridge. All I cared about was this woman, her distinctly Italian shoes, the scooter and the dog.

I captured this image as both a horizontal and a vertical. Shoot first, edit later. I rarely decide in the moment which way is best. Instead I frame the precise shot I want in both formats and decide to worry about which shot I prefer later. That being said, none of the pictures I took included the woman’s face. Why? Because who she is and what she looks like is not the story. I go back to one of my mantras – fill the frame with that which interests you and discard the rest. I wasn’t interested in this woman as an individual – I was interested in what she represented. In the moment, I believed that showing her face would only distract us from the actual story here. And to this day, I’m convinced that decision was the right one and is what makes the image so strong.

It’s an unconscious move for me now, after so many years and so many photographs taken. I can still remember editing my photographs after my first trip abroad – to Thailand and then Cambodia. I took photographs of a range of people that I had met from large cities to Hill Tribe villages. Only all of my pictures were taken from the same vantage point, my height. A standing adult might be face to face with my camera. A child was seen looking up at me. Two adults sitting on a curb, the same, looking up at me. I remember sitting in my apartment in San Francisco – upon my return – looking over the pictures and having a knot turn in my stomach. I had missed so many shots by neglecting to change my perspective. I should have knelt down and looked my subjects right in the eye.

By the time I was in Rome, changing my perspective was an unconscious muscle reflex. So as I stood at this corner in Rome fascinated by the scooter, the image (but not the face of) the woman and, of course, her dog, I instinctively knelt down to change the camera’s perspective. I suppose there are times when looking down at your subject at an oblique angle makes sense – but this, for me, clearly wasn’t one of them.

Ultimately, this image exists because we were on our way to a distinctive lookout point in Rome, but without the distraction and pressure to get there and to then get somewhere else quickly. As a result, my mind and my sense of humor were open to the possibilities. The traffic signal changed at the perfect moment to serve up this great sight and I had the reflexes necessary to capture it. As they say in Rome, Bravo!

I captured this image in December, 2001 and I remember the moment as if it were last week. That’s the way it is with certain images. The events surrounding the photograph, the work we did to get in the right place and position, all of those memories are important and sharp.

Helen and I had landed in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capitol city without much of a plan other than to be sure we toured the northern towns and visited Lalibela, that country’s famous rock-cut churches. Two days into our stay in Adis, an inebriated hotel manager introduced us to Guillome and Melina, a French and Italian couple who had driven up from South Africa in a dilapidated Land Rover (that turned out to be on its last legs) and who were looking for travel companions in Ethiopia with whom to split the gas.

We signed up for a week which, ultimately, morphed into a month of traveling together. The beauty of driving one’s own car in any country is the opportunity to get off the beaten path. In a country like Ethiopia in 2001, when no paths could be called beaten, having our own car allowed us to get off the main bus routes and travel via even smaller roads and through villages that rarely if ever saw tourists, let alone tourists with white skin. Somewhere, we have snapshots of children fondling Helen’s long blond hair, an oddity to them to be sure.

There was television in Ethiopia in 2001. It came over the airwaves, not cable, of course. And every now and again, we’d end up in a restaurant that had a television, look up and realize that the advertisements were for scythes – handheld scythes that people would use to cut back the grass and wheat in their fields. Scythes – the near perfect embodiment of an non-developed agrarian society – advertised on television.

The food we had was amazing. The people, welcoming. We drank the water, ate amazing food in village after village. I would go back in a heart beat.

Of course, the life most people led in Ethiopia was a hard one. One man asked my age, 39-years-old at the time, took my hands in his and inspected my palms and fingers. “You have an easy life,” he observed kindly. I had to agree with him. One man we met was nicknamed 44 because his father was 44-years-old when he was born. This, in a nation who’s average life expectancy at the time was 52-years.

Guillome, concerned for the health of his car, insisted on doing all the driving. His concerns about his car were not unfounded. We had to scuttle the car for scraps midway through week four. As we started off, however, it was all excitement and optimism over untold adventures and discovery. I was at the start of my real growth as a photographer and eager to capture images. Every day, we drove past countless tableaus that I wanted to photograph. But I also knew that I would quickly wear out my welcome if I were constantly asking Guillome to stop and pull over so I could explore something or other with my camera.

It was our fourth day of driving together when we passed a group of women lined up to collect water at the village well. I took it all in and couldn’t hold back any longer. I asked Guillome to stop the car. He did and I hopped out with my camera dangling from neck. I was a good 30 yards beyond the women when we stopped. And I moved slowly, smiled and waved with both hands. Critically, I didn’t touch my camera.

Amharic, the Ethiopian language, is fairly intuitive and I had learned some basic civilities. Combine that with a pocket phrase book and I was able to carry off an extremely basic conversation. I can imagine someone else in a similar situation jumping out of the car, jogging up to the women, camera in hand and attempting to take pictures. My style was and is completely different. I prefer to relax, settle in and then, with permission, pick up my camera see what I find.

I walked up to the crowd of women. At the head of the line was a man at the well spout checking that each woman hadn’t already taken her share of water. I traded pleasantries in my rudimentary Amharic and when I felt the time was right, I picked up my camera and, using facial expressions only, sought permission to take pictures. The women smiled and assented. This was before digital and film for me in Ethiopia was scarce. Even still, I shot the better part of a roll of film (36 pictures). Today, with digital, I’m sure I would have clicked off hundreds.

I got some wonderful images of the women – but this picture, which I captured as I walked away, is my favorite. I love the large water jug in the foreground and clarity of people completely disengaged with the camera and going about their lives, all interrupted by this one woman, water jug clearly on her back, staring right through the camera. As a viewer, I connect with her and can only imagine what she’s thinking. For me, that makes this image startling.

On an entirely different level, this image helps me keep my life in perspective and appreciate the smallest conveniences that we take for granted. Turning a tap and getting water that is safe to drink, is an obvious one.

I’m about to teach a photography workshop here in North Carolina as part of the CLICK Photography festival and again in a few weeks in the South Pacific thanks to Paul Gauguin Cruises. This image and my story about how I approach groups of people will certainly be part of both of those workshops.

First things first. It’s ironic that the same month my collection “One World” is released as a book with my images from many parts of the world – but not China – just happened to be the very same month that I found myself taking pictures in, you guessed it, China. Last month, I captured nearly 10,000 images over three weeks in China and as a result I am, admittedly, still knee-deep in editing. That being said, I thought I’d share this one image as a sneak preview. I shot in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’ian, across Yunnan Province and then in Hong Kong – which is to say there was a lot to choose from. That said, this one image leapt out at me as a great encapsulation of China today, at the crossroads.

First of all, this image should never have existed – that is to say, Helen, the kids and I were trying to enter a walled garden area in Shanghai that is supposedly a key point of interest worth visiting and we were rather turned around. Not lost, exactly, but also nowhere near where we intended to be. In short, we were wandering narrow streets of Shanghai that, had we been where we intended, we never would have seen. Of course, this unexpected detour turned out to be my favorite part of Shanghai. Here, away from the tourists and the tourist shops was the heartbeat of Shanghai. Here were the street stalls, people going about life that was focused around Shanghai and China and not the growth and materialism that China has most recently imported from the West. Here was life in all its technicolor glory.

There is a lot going on in this image and that’s what makes it interesting for me. In the background are the street food stalls – coincidentally, from which we ate some of the most memorable food we enjoyed in our three weeks in China – and people going about the business of their lives.

The hero of the shot, and the reason I selected this image to share is the man on the bicycle – he’s wearing sandals, riding his bike and is on his cell phone at the same time. This, for me, is China at the crossroads. In other areas of China, bullet trains that run off the latest technology and hardware bisect fields that are being plowed by oxen and rice paddies that are being tended by hand. Beijing, Shanghai and other cities are dazzling displays of modern architecture, BMWs, Rolls Royces and other rolling status symbols are common sights while sidewalk garbage cans are still tended by people on bicycles pulling rolling garbage bins.

China is a country in transition. And, for me, the juxtaposition of the street life including the man on the bicycle against the fact that this man is on his cell phone captures it all.

You’ll notice the image is a bit crooked. I’m fine with that. The goal was to capture the critical elements – the food stalls, the street headed back behind them – while making the man on the bicycle and his cell phone the hero of the shot. The angle allowed me to keep most of the bicycle in the frame and not lose anything else I wanted in the image to help tell the story. Of course, all this unfolded in front of me rather quickly. There’s the fun and the challenge as a photographer – to see the scene, understand the story and to quickly (instantly) frame the shot and capture it before it disappears.

There are plenty more China pictures to share – with any luck, I’ll have them all edited and online by the time I blog again next month. In the mean time, here’s China in all her transitional glory.

 

 

The Pyramids at Dawn

This is not only my most collected fine art photograph, it also taught me an invaluable lesson about photography which I still carry with me and teach to others to this day. More on that in a bit.

Arriving in Cairo at age 39 was something I had dreamed of doing for 33 years, since I was six and first read a book on ancient Egypt. When I was a teenager, I made a passing attempt at learning to read hieroglyphics – that seemed cool, but not cool enough to get me to stick with it for very long. I wouldn’t say I was more Egypt-obsessed than other kids, but clearly, the mystery and majesty of the ancient civilization fascinated me from an early age.

Helen and I arrived in Cairo in what turned out to be the mid-point of our year-long journey around the world. We had been in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, India and Paris still remained ahead of us.

A lot of backpackers warned us about Egypt. It’s a tough place to travel, they told us. Egyptians are not nice to westerners, we read. They will harass you at every turn we heard more than once. We entered Egypt overland from Israel, driving on a bus into the Sinai Peninsula. It was a large coach bus and we were the only two people, aside from the driver, on the bus. We were prepared for the worst.

Let me just say for the record, we loved Egypt. The people were great – and there was a near universal sense of humor which, once we tapped into it, made our stay there amazing. So much so, that we extended our four-week visa so we could stay two extra weeks.

Cairo fell in the middle of our visit to Egypt. And that was perfect. I could barely take another day’s anticipation waiting to see the Pyramids at Giza.

Helen and I spent a full day exploring the Pyramids. We rejected the many offers for a guide and took ourselves around one monument after another. Even with my limited film resources, I nonetheless captured a wide range of images. At one point in the afternoon, I realized I wanted a shot from a mile out in the desert – and that shot, of the three pyramids grouped together, was a morning shot.

That is why Helen and I got up at the crack of dawn for the second day in a row and headed back to the Pyramids. We had decided to head to Alexandria on an 11AM mini van that doubled as a taxi. That meant getting to the Pyramids before 8AM, walking out into the desert, grabbing the shot and heading back to the min van stand area all with single minded purpose.

Everything went to plan. We arrived before the Giza plateau opened, had some tea and bread which two teenage boys sold us from trays atop their heads, then at 8AM sharp, we walked with purpose out into the desert. A Bedouin man atop a camel followed us into the desert and tried to sell us camel rides. I used a line that I had honed to perfection in Egypt, channeling my best Obi Wan Kenobi, I said with a wave of my hand, “We’re not the tourists you’re looking for.”

Like the others I had used the line on before him, this particular Bedouin looked us over, turned his camel and headed back to the Pyramids, one assumes in search of more willing tourists. All without so much as another word. I grabbed a terrific shot of the Bedouin atop his camel, riding off toward the Pyramids. I also got the shot we had come  for… the three Pyramids all next to one another.

Picture in hand, Helen and I walked quickly back to the Pyramids. No time to waste, we had already spent an entire day there and we had a van to catch. We walked between two Pyramids and then close the middle of the three structures. Fully past the middle Pyramid and about to leave the Giza Plateau forever, I reconnected with the six-year-old still inside of me. My inner six-year-old didn’t want to leave. At a minimum, the child in me wanted to say goodbye. That’s when I stopped and turned around to wave farewell to the Pyramids, to seal the experience and soak it in for one final time – to satisfy the needs of my six-year-old self.

That’s when I saw this scene.

I dropped my backpack, fished out my camera and, for the moment at least, there was suddenly no van to catch. Time stood still and all the other shots I had taken in the previous 25 hours melted away into  nothingness. In that instant, I knew I had something special. It is one of the very rare moments – in the days of film, at least – when I captured a shot and even before I got it back from the lab, I knew I had something remarkable. For the next six months as Helen and continued our travels, I kept seeing this image in my mind’s eye and when I finally got the contact sheets back in San Francisco, it was the first image I looked for.

Since I first printed this image in the darkroom, countless people have told me that I managed to photograph the Pyramids in a way they they have never been photographed before. I find that hard to believe – but clearly many people, including museum curators and fine art photography collectors believe this to be true.

Here, for whatever it’s worth, is the magic lesson I learned in capturing this image: Sometimes, the best picture is behind you. It’s a simple thought, but walk down a street in one direction and then turn around and walk the other way and you’ll realize the stretch of real estate that you just traversed, eyes wide open, looks entirely different when retracing your steps in the opposite direction.

I’m glad I was able to travel to Egypt. I’m grateful that I never fully lost touch with the 6-year-old inside of me. I’m very glad I listened to that 6-year-old and turned to wave goodbye to the Pyramids. I captured a timeless image – and learned a valuable lesson all at once. That’s a great day in my book.

 

As many faithful readers know, I love photographing inside museums. Museums are a place where we let our guard down, drop our daily masks to the world and interact, at the most basic and pure level, with the art that’s before us. Typically, I look for moments where people are interacting with a statue or a painting. Imagine my delight, then, when I found myself in front of a truly interactive art exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC.

In this case, an entire room had been converted to a single art instillation consisting of plastic noodles that were suspended from a frame. Visitors were invited to walk through the instillation. When you first enter, one tends to giggle uncomfortably. This is an unexpected experience, never mind one inside a museum. After several steps, you realize that the noodles easily give way as you walk through. Next, you start to enjoy the sensation of their light weight against your body. Now, fully immersed inside, one is overcome by a sense of peace. Nothing exists but these abstract plastic noodles that are now your entire world. It’s lovely. But you also know it’s not real and the feeling can’t last. By the time you walk out, you’re ready to re-enter the world, feeling oddly refreshed and thrilled from the short and odd experience.

I’m sure that’s not everyone’s experience, but it was mine. At some level, I’m sure that the experience people have inside the instillation is somehow a reflection of who they are and what’s going on in their lives at that particular moment.

I grabbed my camera, adjusted a few settings for the indoor, museum lighting and experimented with different angles at which to capture the exhibit and the mood of someone exiting it. I saw people walk out smiling, like I had. I saw people leaving as they had entered, texting on their phones. I saw people leaving with their hand together like a snowplow in front of them.

Part of the challenge for me was that several people would be inside the exhibit at the same time. More often than not, this created visual clutter and muddled the story. I was trying to capture a moment of clear emotion – one that said here is an art installation that affected a human being in one specific way or another.

Sometimes photography is a game of luck and chances… where you notice something at the exact right moment are able to capture it. Sometimes photography is a matter of seeing an image before it unfolds, and moving (quickly) to the right spot to capture it. And sometimes, photography is a matter of patience; setting up in the right spot and waiting for an image you hope will arrive before you have to leave. This image was the latter of the three.

Helen, Jordan, Tamar and I spent 45 minutes in this room. In fact, when we dragged our kids away from this room, they had only 45 minutes left to enjoy the Air & Space Museum across the street. Jordan and Tamar nonetheless left the Hirshhorn under protest… they wanted more time in this room. And who could blame them?

While the kids played in the Hirshhorn, I shot a couple of different art instillations. And after enjoying this instillation myself, I eventually set up at one end of the noodles and waited patiently for the right image to present itself. And here it is… Jordan emerging in full stride and full joy.

I wouldn’t change a thing about this image… and thus I thought it worth sharing.

The story behind this image starts several years before I captured it. I grew up with a camera, bulk film and a darkroom. As a teenager, I experimented with taking pictures that I came across in my daily life. In many respects, they were snapshots taken with a 35MM camera and B&W film. When I returned to my native Manhattan with a degree in economics from Northwestern, I had but a vague connection with photography.

I began my first career – on Madison Avenue – and one day a thought popped in my head. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to photography people interacting with art. There, I expected to find the full range of emotion from somber to humor, from introspection and analysis to pure oblivion. I imagined a museum to be a an amazing place to photograph people.

And so, one day in 1987, I dusted off my grandfather’s Pentax K-1000, bummed a roll of Tri-X off my dad and headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, I shot 36 individual images. No bracketing, no working a scene, just 36 pure images. Dad sent the film to his lab, SCOPE, and a few days later I had the contact sheet.

Bear in mind, this was the first roll of film I had shot in easily six years. And it turned out to be sublime. Image after image leapt off the contact sheet and grabbed me. It was, arguably, the best 36 consecutive frames I have ever shot. Ever. As in, to this day.

Youth, my advertising career, an overzealous love of night clubs, and general paycheck to paycheck existence all overtook my life and I set the camera aside again, as I had when I left high school for college.

Three years later, having moved to San Francisco, something made me look for the negatives and contact sheet from the shoot. Only they were gone. As turned out, gone for good. Lost for all eternity.

On my next trip to New York, circa 1991, I took the same camera with me and did my best to recreate the magic of my original trip the Metropolitan. Again, I took a single roll of Tri-X and again I snapped 36 unique images. This time, I brought the film to my lab in San Francisco and I have looked after the negatives properly ever since.

While I can’t say my second roll of film shot at the Met was as overwhelmingly powerful, frame by frame, as my first roll of film shot there – I can say that there are some images came out of that shoot that I adore completely.

This is the best of them.

When I look at this image, I appreciate every subtle detail in the picture. The stoop of the women in the face of the strength of the cougar, the gestures of the women who have found something fascinating to read, and – naturally – the pure humor in the juxtaposition of these women and the statue.

Of course, when I look at this picture, I am always also reminded of the original roll of film that I shot in that museum. And as sure as I am writing about that lost roll of film now, I’m also sure that sometime in the next few years I will again dig through ancient boxes and files in the hopes of uncovering the lost treasure. I am, equally sure I shall never find it.

This image strikes me as particularly relevant as we enter what President Obama once called the political, “silly season.” Even without the backdrop of a presidential campaign, I love this image and all it represents to me, not the least of which is what it took to capture this image.

First off, I always enjoy exploring architecture, statues and reliefs with my camera. It’s rarely the grand finished piece that attracts me, but the small details. There is power in these details. Inevitably, I find a story as well as a composition that appeals to me. In this case, moving my camera around one of the many wonderful reliefs on the buildings of Rockefeller Center I saw this scene – a man, as if God, yelling from on high. The context is irrelevant to me, however this scene as captured here, is just downright funny.

What’s even more amusing, or perhaps alarming, is that as I took this picture I was approached by Rockefeller Center private security demanding to know what I was doing. “I’m taking pictures,” I told them. What for, he asked me. “So I can have a nice picture of the building,” I replied. He pointed out that I had been taking pictures of this building for a long time.

I laughed… suddenly the Rockefeller Center security detail morphed into the yelling man I had just photographed. While not actually yelling at me, it was the same, authority from up high as if screaming in my ear. In this case the uniformed guard was accusing me of being a terrorist. All the while, I’m still pointing my camera and taking pictures.

These situations are always dicey. If I’m on private property, they have a right to tell me to stop. If I’m on public property, they can’t stop me from photographing anything, including their building. I had a fun conversation outside Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose a while back – Adobe’s private security must have seen me on a security camera and came out to tell me to stop taking pictures of their building. “Am I on private property?” I asked, clearly standing on the sidewalk. I was, they said. “I’m on the sidewalk,” I pointed out. They proceeded to show me an imaginary line in the pavement… one side of that line was public, the other private. I took a half step back, crossed the imaginary line into the public part of the sidewalk and pointed my camera back at their building.

Back at Rockefeller Center, I exchanged words with the security guard. He was rude and unnecessarily confrontational and I told him as much. That said, I knew I already had the shots I wanted, so slung my camera over my shoulder and moved on

These days, if I’m on public property, I invite them to call the police. Then again, if I have the shot in the can, as I did here, I offer a piece of my mind, move on, and recall the sweet words of Jim Morrison, “Man, we just played the Ed Sullivan Show.”

Chicago is actually called The Windy City because of its politicians (and all their hot air). That said, being situated right on the edge of Lake Michigan, Chicago does get its share of rough weather. I was shooting in Chicago for several days this past summer on an assignment for Carlson Hotels and their new signature Radisson Blu Aqua property in downtown Chicago. My challenge, as set out by Carlson’s EVP & Chief Branding Officer, was to capture images of Chicago that would be unexpected for a hotel. That, in truth, was the scope of my assignment.

My first and perhaps largest challenge was to find three consecutive sunny days in Chicago over the summer. People familiar with the city chided me  - predicting the weather there, they said, was impossible and the only thing more difficult than finding an accurate weather prediction, they told me, was finding two, never mind three consecutive days of solid sunshine over the summer. But I was resolute. The sun does shine in Chicago over the summer. I knew this to be true.

After a month of patience, on Monday, June 27th the weather appeared to break. I booked flights and the next morning, Helen, the kids and I flew to Chicago and began shooting the southside as soon as we got off the plane. I shot for three solid days in the sun and saved shooting indoors at a couple of museums for Friday, June 29th when clouds and rain were expected.

On Friday, after our first lazy morning at the hotel, we hopped a cab to the Art Institute to show the kids classic modern art while I would poke around looking to add to my “Art Watching” collection. That’s when we noticed the weather. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was if the clouds were inverted,  as if the cumulous tops were somehow underneath – and what’s impossible to capture in a still image is the life that these clouds had. Constantly in motion. Alive. Alien.

I started shooting these clouds from inside the cab and continued as we climbed out of the taxi and walked across Michigan Avenue to enter the museum. I have several images of these clouds on my website. But this image is, by far, my favorite. Anyone from Chicago would recognize the silhouette of the Art Institute at the bottom of the photograph, while the building at the top, floating in space, helps frame the picture.

This is, in truth, a stunning moment in nature. It passed relatively quickly. And it’s only by pure chance that I was in Chicago when it happened. The question for me, as a photographer, isn’t just about being lucky – it’s about what we do with that luck once we happen upon it. In this case, I’m quite pleased with the outcome.

Getting to work every morning in Rangoon, Burma

Collectors Nathan and Rachel Bearman have generously donated 15 of my limited edition prints to The Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The prints that the museum selected and which the Bearmans donated came from my collection “Around the World in 89 Photographs.”

It’s difficult to say I have a favorite image from this series. In fact, the collection was supposed to be only 80 images in total, so clearly editing and winnowing down a series is not my strong suit.

This image is one of the 15 being acquired by the MFAH. I took this picture in 1998 in Ragoon, Burma… now known as Yangon, Myanmar. While I have traveled on buses like this one in different parts of the world, I did not get on this one. And whereas today I would snap off 20-30 pictures of this bus trying to get the perfect shot, back in 1998 I was still gingerly testing my limits as a photographer. I took just one frame.

There’s a lot going in this image. In addition to being a ridiculously jam-packed bus, there is the attempt by yet one more person to board, there is the guiding hand that’s helping get more folks on, the conductor with the wad of money and the telling eye contact from the upper left-hand corner that (for me) draws us in and forces us to examine the humanity of the moment.

I grew up commuting on subways and buses in Manhattan and the Bronx. As a young adult working on Madison Avenue (actually Grey Advertising on Third Avenue, but who’s counting), I spent many a morning confronting one subway after another that was completely full with no room for so much as one more person. Back then, I dealt with the situation by learning how to jump onto and ride the subways between the cars (involves a not terribly bright maneuver that includes peeling back a protective gate to prevent exactly this act).

This single image sparked my idea for the collection “The Daily Commute” that was exhibited for a year at The Oakland Museum of California nearly a decade ago. I fell in love with the idea of sharing the various commutes that we all endure and in a way that allow us to find perspective on our own commute. In my dream, these images are exhibited on New York subways and buses… and while I’ve explored that possibility, government budget cuts make it impossible for now.

Eventually, I’ll re-visit “The Daily Commute” collection and re-introduce it on my website. In the mean time, this is one of my more iconic commute images and it lives in “Around the Wolrd in 89 Photographs.”

I’m proud to report that, thanks to the Bearmans and to Del Zogg and Anne Tucker at the MFAH, it will now live on at this prestigious museum as well.