Savannah, 2000

Savannah River at sunrise

“Sunshine on My Shoulders”

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a day that I could give you
I’d give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I’d sing a song to make you feel this way”
John Denver

The location for this photograph is Morrell Park, near the Waving Girl statue, along the riverfront in downtown Savannah. It’s about three blocks from my home, which means if I want to schedule a sunrise photo expedition for a group, that’s the place which will offer me the shortest travel time, and the most sleep before I have to head out into the dark.

Around the turn of the century I taught a number of small group photography workshops in Savannah. With a little driving time, there are lots of sunrise options–beach, marsh views–but if staying downtown, where our workshop hotels were usually, the riverfront is the handiest clear sight line to a visible horizon. So it was really for the convenience of my clients. Yes, that too, but there was a more important, and more subtle, reason.

The park is (or was; lots of new construction in the area these days, and a shrinking public view of the river) pretty simple: a grassy area, a few trees, the Waving Girl, the Weston Hotel reflection, the river, and the sun rising downriver. I scheduled the groups to shoot sunrise at this location at least twice, to experience how the same place could look very different with a little change in the light and atmospherics. I photographed sunrise from that spot dozens of times and it never felt repetitive. Having the same ostensible subject matter each visit made it easier to notice how the light changed it. What most often makes a photograph interesting is not the subject, but the way the light is describing it. A corollary to that is, never put off making the photograph. If it looks good to you now, you cannot do “this” photograph later. If it looks better later, shoot that, then.

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Paris, 2000

Champ de Mars

I think the first time we were in Paris was 1989. I wanted to “know” Paris quickly, because I assumed it would be the only time I would ever get there, and we only had 2-3 days before heading south. Silly me. I was still relatively new to traveling and had not yet considered how one can spend a lifetime in a single place and still only “know” a piece of it.

I only remember two things we did in those few blurry days. We went to the Moulin Rouge to see the Can Can dancers. It was a classic over worn tourist “attraction” probably designed to appeal to Boomers like me, people who saw “Gigi” in their emotionally formative years. The tables and customers were packed in and the prix fixe meal was mediocre, but I still have the menu, on the bulletin board next to my desk. It seemed pretty cool at the time.

The second memory was going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and looking out over the City of Light, in the nighttime. It was one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself to be sure you are really here, right now.

The photograph above was made on our 3rd or 4th time in Paris, out of about 10 total times now. Each time I learn a little more, feel a little more comfortable. On this visit we made a routine stop by the Tower and saw this wedding picnic. I asked if I could photograph them and, “Mais, oui,” and they composed themselves for me. I took 4 or 5 quick frames, “Merci, bon soir!”

Barbara and I are Francophiles for a variety of reasons; one of them is, you have to admire an ability to create such an elegant scene so casually.

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Las Vegas, 2/2000

The Venetian Hotel

“Everybody’s got a bomb
We could all die any day, aw
But before I’ll let that happen
I’ll dance my life away, oh-oh-oh

They say, 2000-00, party over
Oops, out of time
We’re runnin’ outta time
So tonight we gonna party like it’s 1999″ Prince, “1999”

Two months into the year 2000, we were fairly well reassured that Y2K issues were not going to be the end of civilization as we knew it. Some history details from Wikipedia: 1999 included the introduction of the Euro as currency, and NATO bombed Yugoslavia. I was in Serbia a year ago and, although no one was anything less than kind to me, they remember. Why not? Where I live, people are still debating a war that ended 158 years ago, and in the Middle East they continue centuries of conflict.

The Dow Jones closed at over 10,000 for the first time ever; 15 people died at Columbine High School; a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma produced the strongest winds ever measured on Earth, 301 +/- 20 MPH; da Vinci’s “Last Supper” went on display after over 20 years of restoration; and Napster was created leading to more and more social media where the concepts of intellectual property rights are “quaint.” The American Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup. Boris Yeltsin resigned as President of Russia leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting President.

The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, pictured above, opened in 1999, and the camera used, a Nikon D1, was introduced that year. The illusion of Venice in the hotel design was close enough that if you didn’t think about it, you might forget the stage set. I watched people move around trying to get a better cell signal until they realized they were inside. And then you realize, this is the second floor of the hotel.

The day before the D1 was announced, the base price for a professional digital camera was about $15,000. The D1 was about $5500. Game changer. It was early in the digital photography transition. There had been some interesting point and shoot digital cameras and prototypes, but initially the digital SLRs intended for pro markets and serious amateurs were a couple of modified models of Nikon and Canon film cameras offered by Kodak and Fuji. The D1 was the first full production DSLR designed from the ground up to be digital.

The res was low (2.7 megapixels), but it used all the lenses you already had, and it was the beginning of a constant increase in improvements, with additional resolution and other features. One more bit of tech geeking out: I love wide-angle lenses like the one used here. So many people are enamored of big, fast, expensive lenses that make tight framing possible at some distance, but I like wide-angles; they are smaller, lighter, less expensive, and most importantly, they are story-telling lenses, useful for stacking up supporting information in layers of background details; you just have to be willing to get really close to the foreground subject.

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China, 2012

Great Wall at Jinshanling

It is (or was) an urban myth that one can see the Great Wall from space. While there are more than 13,000 miles of walls (it’s actually not one wall but a scattering of many in various regions), they don’t create a large mass.

Last week’s post was from a less frequently visited Wall area, and didn’t show much Wall. This photograph is from about three hours northeast of Beijing in a more tourism-prepped area, an area with some long, connecting Wall sections snaking along the landscape.

Seeing and walking on the Wall, it’s impossible to not be impressed by the audacity of the idea, the engineering, and the physical accomplishment, tempering that with the understanding that, like the pyramids of Egypt and Central America, or the Roman aqueducts, or the Taj Mahal, or Monticello or Mount Vernon, thousands of slaves labored and died over centuries in the execution of the plan.

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China, 2012

The Great Wall

Try to imagine Donnie’s and Barbara’s legs being essentially vertical, and you can sense how steep this section of The Great Wall is, and there were places even more challenging to walk. Just past this point was an area where we just sat down and slid rather than risk standing and falling.

Near the end of our China workshop we had taken the group out to the Wall (not where this photo was taken) along the Mongolian border, a place polished for the tourist trade–gift shops, motor coach parking, well restored Wall. Visually breath-taking, but, even with well maintained stairs and walkways, climbing up and down, and the heat, and the weight of all the camera gear, made it also literally breath-taking. I was impressed in particular with a small Chinese woman who was one of the many vendors hustling the visitors with various wares and refreshments. This woman, maybe 90 pounds, carried a standard sized cooler full of ice and beer up the stairs onto the Wall, and then hawked along the undulating top looking for customers, making it look effortless, and causing those of us huffing and wheezing some chagrin . It may be the best $5 can of beer I’ve ever had.

The day after the workshop Donnie arranged a private motorcycle sidecar tour of Beijing and some countryside. They took us to this place, another Wall section, not rubble, but also showing little benefit from any TLC, and with more challenging trekking. Riding back into Beijing, the smog was bad; the particulates in the air were so thick they stung my face, and I finally had to put on the face shield offered. Not very manly, but when we got back to the hotel I still had facial skin.

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