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THIS AUGUST I’VE BEEN in and out and roundabout and back and forth. I’ve spent more time on the Long Island Expressway, it sometimes seems, than in my much-loved house in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y. And I’ve fallen down the job of documenting my garden. For that I have a novel excuse besides the fact that I haven’t been here as much as I’d like: the weather’s been too good! Decent garden photography on a sunny day, in the dappled shade of tall oaks, is near impossible. But the other morning, I woke at 6, stepped outside into a misty morning, and ran to get my camera.

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EVERY NOW AND THEN, I need a photo workshop to help me look at things afresh. In Europe last month, I was so busy chronicling all I saw as straight-up reportage that I rarely took time to be creative with my camera — or iPhone, in my case (I’ve given up carrying anything heavier).

This morning, at the Municipal Arts Society offices in Midtown Manhattan, I took a two-hour class called “Getting the Shot” taught by Timothy Schenck, a photographer specializing in art, architecture and construction. Tim ran through an astonishing amount of information in an hour. His reminders about basic mindfulness (“focus on the task”) were not lost on me, and I loved being given permission to experiment (“tap into your individual vision,” “try the unconventional”), along with composition (eliminate visual clutter, use negative space, remember the rule of thirds) and technical tips.

I asked how to take photos of a building besides just standing in front of it and holding the camera up, something I often find myself doing. Among Tim’s suggestions: try a very low angle to take in, say, the cobblestones on a street; use ‘leading lines,’ like a row of houses diagonally pointing toward the subject building; look for a convenient bell tower for a high vantage point; take close-ups of a weathered door or interesting knob; tell a story about the building in a series of images.

All very helpful, so when our group of about 25 — most with SLR cameras, some with point-and-shoots, a few with cellphones — marched the 10 blocks south to Grand Central Terminal to put Tim’s tips into practice, I was feeling inspired. The image, top, taken on 42nd Street just in front of the station, may be my favorite of the day.

It was crowded inside the station, with more tourists than commuters. I interpreted the part of the lesson about weeding out visual clutter to mean people — people en masse, at any rate. I gravitated toward quiet corners and was surprised there were some, even inside Grand Central on a Saturday afternoon. And when there weren’t, I found that if I waited, a wave of humanity would pass and for a few seconds the coast would be clear to grab a shot of the station’s grand Beaux Arts architecture.

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PARIS IS STILL PARIS, as these atmospheric photos, taken last weekend by my cousin Susan, show. She reported the streets were ‘normale,’ with plenty of shoppers (the semi-annual sales are on) and heavier police presence in the Marais.

My month-long, late-winter European sojourn is on, and I’m in trip-planning mode once again. I’m flying into Madrid, heading south from there to visit friends who live in the mountains near Malaga, then riding the rails toward the South of France and eventually into Italy, ending up in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. (Paris is not part of this trip, by the way; I’m hoping for warmth and sunshine.)

When I got realistic and started thinking about timing, I cut out ‘detours’ like San Sebastian, Lyon and Switzerland, and will more or less hug the Mediterranean coast, so I can spend more time in fewer places. Still, it will be a whirlwind. I’m aiming for at least two nights (Cordoba), sometimes three (Arles, Nice) or four (Milan, with side trips), at each stop. I’m making a few key reservations, mostly at modest but hopefully charming hotels, hostels and B&Bs. My budget for accommodations is $100/night, but I’m finding there’s plenty available and in many cases, I won’t even have to spend that much.

Working on the logistics, consulting schedules, figuring out how to hop from one place to another in half-day, three- or four-hour train increments. Overnight trains are out. I have enough trouble sleeping well in a bed, and I want to see the scenery I’m passing through — at close to 200mph, I’m afraid. The European rail system is largely high-speed trains now, though I’ll take local trains when possible.

Your encouraging input on my previous post and suggestions for places to go and see are much appreciated. So let us continue. I’ve been to Barcelona and Valencia; this trip will mostly be about seeing places I have NOT been. I’m considering spending time in Zaragoza and/or Giona. Anyone been to either of those?

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Photos: Susan Rosenthal


HAPPY NEW YEAR, devoted readers and anyone who may have landed accidentally on my humble six-year-old blog.

For my first post of 2015, here’s a small sampling of seasonally appropriate photos from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s online photo database. It’s a tremendous resource, and great fun to search when you’ve got a free evening or it’s too damn cold to go outside.

The images in this post are lantern slides, glass transparencies to be viewed through a projector (called a ‘magic lantern’) that casts the image on a wall. They were all taken by Adrian Vanderveer Martense (1852-1898), a lawyer by profession and an amateur photographer. Martense documented houses, streets, and his friends and neighbors in Flatbush, as well as momentous events like the legendary blizzard of March 1888 and the moving of the Hotel Brighton in Coney Island in April 1888. He was a member of the Brooklyn Academy of Photography and served as its first recording secretary when it was established in 1887 (it later became the Brooklyn Camera Club).

Top: Adrian Martense, center, with pinhole camera, along with two other men and a boy on a tricycle, c.1880

Martense was descended from Dutch settlers who came to Brooklyn in the 17th century. His family’s land is now part of Greenwood Cemetery. Some of the photos in this post show a rural side of 19th century Brooklyn; others were taken downtown and show buildings that still exist. Most of these were taken on March 15, 1888, when Martense evidently set out to record the aftermath of the great blizzard in several different neighborhoods. And aren’t we glad he did?


Men standing at side of stage sleigh after blizzard


Men clearing snow from Flatbush Avenue train tracks after the blizzard


Children climbing into the back of a horse-drawn sleigh at Flatbush Avenue and Clarkson Avenue following the 1888 blizzard


Man standing in front of City Hall (now Borough Hall) and elevated train tracks after the blizzard


Man in front of coal and wood shop, as other men work to clear snow from the streets at Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street


Horse-drawn carriage stopped in front of 7 Sutherland Sisters, on Clinton Avenue near the corner of Fulton Street, after the blizzard


People walking between piles of cleared snow at Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, following the blizzard


Horse-drawn carriage in snow-covered street, c.1890


Street car and horse-drawn carriage at Adams Street and Willoughby Street under the elevated train, with men standing on the sidewalk

This is just a tiny sample of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Martense collection; you can see them all right here.

Photo: Caren Sturmer

MY FRIEND CAREN’S username on Instagram, an iPhone photo-sharing app, is ‘exphotographer’ — by which I guess she means she no longer plies the trade for money. But she is still very much a photographer, of whose eye I am in awe. She and I can stand side by side and take a photo of the same subject. Hers will not only be clearer and better composed, it will be, in some ineffable way, more interesting. “It’s about the light,” she says. Well, she must have some special light.

If you have an iPhone and an Instagram account, search for “exphotographer” and look at Caren’s images. Some are black-and-whites dating back to her art-school days in Philadelphia, re-shot with the iPhone; others were taken moments before posting. Many are quotidian things transformed through the lens of her unique vision. The composition above is a case in point, beautiful enough to make me feel less nervous about Tuesday.

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