Photogenic Slices of Brooklyn


AFTER MORE THAN 500 BLOG POSTS, illustrated with thousands of pictures, I was feeling the need for some fresh inspiration. Conveniently, the new 92Y in Tribeca is offering a 7-session photography course this winter called just that: “Inspiration and Vision.”


It’s taught by Palmer Davis, a professional photographer whose work has a nostalgic beauty that’s easy to appreciate, and whose teaching style is open and supportive. Palmer is helping our group of about a dozen hone our artistic vision and find that often-elusive inspiration with a series of challenging assignments that he warned us today are only going to get harder.


This is the first photography course I’ve ever taken. After three sessions, I have new respect for photographers. It’s hard to create an arresting image, one with lasting power.

It’s not a technical course at all (maybe that’ll be next), and I have some serious technical issues. I’m working with a Nikon Coolpix point & shoot, and two borrowed cameras, a Nikon DX50 and a Nikon DX3000, with two different lenses, and I still can’t seem to get a picture in focus. Though I’m finally reading the manuals and figuring out the bells and whistles on the two SLRs, what looks reasonably clear in iPhoto and fine on the blog is a fuzzy mess blown up several feet across on a projection screen. My lighting is a crap shoot, too. It’s frustrating, and I hope to rectify the situation. Meanwhile, I’m loving the class.




I shared outtakes from the first assignment in a previous post: animal portraits, which took me to the farmyard at the Prospect Park Zoo, where I forged an intimate connection (well, I thought so anyway) with Bonnie the Cotswold sheep.

The shots in this post are my response to assignment #2: “Unseen New York.” Palmer’s guidelines were to really look, and zero in on things we would normally walk by without noticing, the stuff of one’s peripheral vision, “not the main event.” As always, the submissions (only 5 per student) were wide-ranging, from a close-up of a cockroach in the shadow of a chain-link fence and a set of steps with snowy footprints that seem to symbolize the winter of 2011, to strangers on a train through a fish-eye lens and mysterious reflections in store windows.

There’s lots of class participation in the (gentle) critiques, and Palmer is encouraging, though he articulates what doesn’t work as readily as what does. I love the phrase he came up with — “fragmentary slices of wonderland” — to describe some of my offerings, taken within a few blocks of my home in Prospect Heights.


Next week may not be so pretty. We’re going all Nan Goldin, creating visual diaries of our domestic lives. I’m thinking unmade bed, half-eaten food, tangles of cable wire…all the things I normally edit out of my pictures in an effort to tidy up the world.

We’re to take 36 pictures a day for a week (this is modeled on the ‘roll-a-day’ course at the International Center of Photography) and from that, bring in just six to share — six that seem to say “This is who I am.” Like all Palmer’s assignments to date, it should be interesting, not to say consuming, and most definitely an education.


Do any of my photos move you? Which don’t do it for you at all? Please let me know by commenting on this post (click on “[#of] comments” in tiny type under the headline above).

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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12 Responses to Photogenic Slices of Brooklyn

  1. Guy McClure says:

    It is a small world isn’t it? I am a friend of Ruthie Davis who is Palmer’s sister! She is a very talented footwear designer.

  2. fran says:

    what lovely photos. i’ve always felt that the light in brooklyn has a unique quality. you’ve captured this well. brava.

  3. Cynthia Gillis says:

    Well put Cara. Never stop learning new things – and more about the old things. It’s what makes life fun.

  4. Elke says:


  5. SRS says:

    my faves are the first two — but the second one seems to most satisfy the fragmentary slice of wonderland descripton for me . . .

  6. RH says:

    Your valentine photo of the converging images of the bakery shop window with the city reflections held my interest.

  7. NB says:

    LOVED your pics of the shadows and steps etc. You are really getting good!

  8. Astor C. says:

    I love the first shot and the last colorful one.

    The class sounds awesome. Re focus: part of the problem (not all of it) may be that you have not zeroed out the eyepiece to your own vision (you can do it with or without glasses.

  9. cara says:

    hi folks, thanks for all the feedback. Really helps to hear people’s reactions. I’m two days into the visual diary of my “domestic sphere” and having a lot of fun with it — think pills next to a glass of water, keys in the door, nutshells on the coffee table, my MSNBC friends glowing blue in a darkened bedroom. No problem at all to take 36 pictures a day (of course the aim is to get *interesting* pictures).

  10. Terry says:

    I like the abstract at the bottom. Getting 36 “good” picture is the problem. Are y’all going to do people?

  11. cara says:

    hi Terry, I don’t think all 36 have to be ‘good,’ but it gives you the space to discard the not-so-good ones that lead eventually to their getting better. I have no idea what assignments the teacher has dreamed up for the next 4 weeks, but I’m willing to bet some of them will involve people.

  12. kym says:

    I like the sunflower one the best. The wrought iron shots are interesting as well. Sounds like a fun class.

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