Abstracting the World

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SEEING THE WORLD ANEW: that’s the point of the Tuesday afternoon photography class I’ve been taking at the Tribeca Y, taught by Palmer Davis (who also teaches at the ICP).

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Palmer’s assignments are creatively challenging and intellectually stimulating. They make you look differently at the familiar. I feel I’m casting the cobwebs from my jaded eyes.

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The latest assignment is “Abstraction,” taking things out of context so it’s all about form rather than meaning. I found I could accomplish that by shooting in close-up, and create images that look like modern paintings.

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Pity about the lack of focus in the one above. But I still like it. It’s a lamppost in Carroll Gardens. As Palmer put it, “Abstraction opens up the possibilities of picture-making.”

If you missed my animal portraits and slices of Brooklyn for previous assignments,  you can go here and here.

Photogenic Slices of Brooklyn

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).