Happy Solstice, 2023

Rio, from Corcovado.

Paris, 2016

Paris dress shop and clerk

We were down one of the little Parisian side streets, in a women’s clothing shop that Barbara has such a knack for finding, places with small inventories and unique offerings. If you find something you like, and it’s your size, you know no one else will ever show up at a party with the same outfit.

This young woman was one of the staff helping Barb, and she had a great look herself. I asked her to step closer to the front window for a minute and took a couple of quick frames, because…

…I had to.

For more of Bill’s photographs, go to https://www.billdurrence.com/index

Savannah, 2023

Savannah, GA, Annual decorating of the squares, for Warren, Greene and Washington Squares.

In 1733 General James Oglethorpe founded the 13th colony, Georgia, with the establishment of Savannah on a bluff above the Savannah River. The current Landmark Historic District (downtown) mirrors the original Oglethorpe Plan, a grid of streets and egalitarian lot sizes with a series of small parks or “squares.” The properties that extend two blocks north and south of a square, and one block east and west of the square make a “ward.” (For a much more detailed explanation of The Oglethorpe Plan, read Thomas Wilson’s excellent The Oglethorpe Plan.)

Some time before my involvement, the City of Savannah partnered with the Downtown Neighborhood Association (representing the interests of downtown residents) to name a Ward Captain in each ward and that person’s one responsibility would be to round up enough neighbors to put up some ribbon, bows, and garland, decorating their square around the first of December, and taking it down January 1st, with the materials furnished by the City, and (I think) the Chamber of Commerce.

In the early 2000’s I wound up being the Washington Ward Captain. We had a few neighbors, and a fair amount of vacant properties, but it was enough people to get the job done easily and quickly, and be proud of how our square looked each year. As we acquired more residents, and more people showed up to help, someone started bringing snacks. Then beverages. In 2012 I started photographing the group after we finished, and have only missed two years of photos so far. Above is this year’s, from last Saturday. Barbara, black dress 4th from right, with the Christmas lights necklace (of course) and I have lived in this neighborhood the longest of any now, over 30 years.

An adjacent ward, Warren, has a lot of commercial property, so there are fewer residents to do the decorating, and somewhere along the way we just combined our populations and did the two squares together. Of course the party part grew, and now there were refreshment tables set up. A couple of years ago we added a third, Greene Ward, and now it’s a moveable party, with each square providing food and drink as the few fearless climb ladders, make short work of the project, and move on to the next square, while many more watch. The neighborhood has grown and we have a lot more people than needed, but that’s OK, because some of these people should not be on a ladder, me included.

I heard mention of some conversation about the City taking over doing the decoration starting next year. I don’t know how accurate that information is, but if it is true, I think that would be a mistake. It’s likely that a City plan would be minimal budget and effort, standardized as much as possible, and outwardly focused, toward visitors. It would be the next step in the ‘theme-park-ification’ of downtown Savannah. When we, the residents, do it, we do it for us, and to show off our neighborhoods. I believe we get a better product. And, more importantly…

There’s a lot more going on here than just hanging ribbon, bows, and garland.

“Decorating the Square” is a new gallery with eight group photos from the last ten years, including Pandemic Christmas, when we also had an ugly sweater contest. To see that gallery, go to https://www.billdurrence.com/index/G0000WbSqyQ_uGRc

Provence, 2016

Tarascon, Provence, France

I love an assortment of geometric shapes and forms, diagonal and curved lines, color and texture. I’ve shot tens of thousands of “compositions” experimenting with the balancing of those elements, not aware for a long time that I was simply doing exercises, like a painter making preliminary sketches.

And then one day, maybe walking through an old village, you see a pattern, like an old friend, but this time it’s different. Something breaks the pattern.

For more of Bill’s photographs, go to https://www.billdurrence.com/index

Slovenia, 2023

Ljubljana

We knew which table was ours in the large outdoor restaurant space. It was the one with the wine bottle with my name painted on it. We’ve only been in Ljubljana a few hours and they already know us.

We had checked into our hotel that afternoon in the old part of Ljubljana, and asked for a restaurant recommendation. Our hostess said she would make us a reservation, and then directed us to the place, only a couple of blocks away. The personalized “reservation” sign was a nice touch, and the food and service were good.

“Slovenia, 2023” (https://www.billdurrence.com/index/G00000dEPhI8fPbs) is the final gallery from our recent bicycling and driving trip.

Gaming, Austria, 2023

Gaming, Austria From Hotel Berghof

When Barbara and I started planning our most recent trip we had two things we wanted to do: something physical, outside–that was a bike ride from Passau to Vienna, (“The Bike Path” at https://www.billdurrence.com/index/G0000sHhi4SN4JMw); and to spend a few days traveling like we first did almost 40 years ago, with no reservations or timelines to follow, just see where the road led us.

So after the bike ride we rented a car and drove out of Vienna, telling the GPS to take us across Austria in the direction of Ljubljana, Slovenia, but no highways. Weaving narrow roads in and out, up and down, we just randomly stopped in Gaming. Asked at the Hotel Berghof if a room was available and it was. The next morning, after an included breakfast, with enough food for at least four people, we realized we had not asked, “How much?” at any point. When we did, it was very reasonable, and the hostess had been so nice, but then they did not take plastic, and we did not have enough cash.

Not a problem. “There’s an ATM in the grocery store at the bottom of the hill.” So the nice little old lady held Barbara hostage while I went and easily acquired her ransom. Couldn’t do that 40 years ago.

I’ve created a new gallery of landscapes from our ride and drive across Austria. To see that, go to https://www.billdurrence.com/index/G0000ZgeyOWZvdcc.

Vienna, 2023

Vienna street scene

I was leading a workshop in Mexico several years ago and started the program with some photographs I had made earlier, street scenes of local people framed against the colorful buildings. A day or so later I had a student disappointed because she was not fast enough to catch any street portraits like I had shown. Neither am I most of the time, as I explained to her. Set a trap.

In working on the street, I find a background I like, frame it carefully with lens choice and camera position, shoot a few tests shots to analyze exposure and composition, “pin” the corners of the desired framing for quick checks during shooting, and then wait for a subject to move through my frame, looking for the just right moment, gesture, shape/tone/color juxtaposition, placement against the ground.

Except, not this time. I saw the background and the guy in black moving across all at once. It was an autonomic response, raising the camera, framing, and shooting too fast for conscious thought. Catch your breath, click. I waited around for another 10 minutes or so trying different people walking by, but nothing ever looked as good as the guy in black. I’m pleased to say, also, that this is the exact framing of the quick shot, no cropping or straightening.

Vienna was the end point of our bicycle ride from Passau, and we spent a few days hanging out in the old part of town, inside the Ringstrasse. It is an interesting mix of classical and whimsical. Take a look at my new gallery, Vienna Snapshots, 2023, at https://www.billdurrence.com/index/G0000DNj64yyYoFg

Austria, 2023

The not so blue Danube

We had an inauspicious beginning for our Passau to Vienna bike ride. When we picked up our e-bikes to start the trip, Barbara had a tumble right outside the bicycle shop. Bruised, and a little bloody, but OK, she went back inside and bought the only helmet they had, a used one.

The bicycle vendor emphasized how important it was to NOT lose the key. We rode the first leg of our trip, checked into our hotel and I discovered I lost my key somewhere along the way. No key, can’t take the battery off the e-bike and charge it. So I called the shop and they agreed to bring me another bike the next morning, and pick up the key-less one, for free.

As we checked in, the desk clerk mentioned a large wedding in the hotel that evening (Saturday). It started at 5 and was a huge group. The live band played pretty good covers of a lot of pop and rock and roll…..until 2AM…..right above our room.

The next morning we faced one of our longest rides with a late start, not getting the bike swap until noon. When we walked out to meet the truck, it started raining. With 62 kilometers to go, the first leg was blessedly downhill, about 8 kilometers distance, with a vertical drop of 300 meters. (Going down was a lot easier than going up the day before.)

The new bike only had about a half charge so my range was just barely enough to make the next location, and that by conserving power. (Read-unassisted pedaling.)

But the best part of travel is often the unplanned and unexpected. We had a beautiful ride along the Danube; rainy off and on, but cool, not hot. About halfway we stopped for some lunch, and there was a free e-bike charging station next to the restaurant, along the bike path seen here, letting me add some charge to my battery while consuming good Bavarian beer. We even discovered a trash can there that sings “Hallelujah” when you put trash in it.

For a sampling of the ride, see my new gallery, “The Bike Path”at https://www.billdurrence.com/index/G0000sHhi4SN4JMw

Passau, Germany, 2023

Beginning The Bike Path

I start any new adventure with some excitement, some trepidation, some apprehension, but that’s what makes it an adventure–the unknown. What surprises, pleasant and otherwise, await? Am I up to this, whatever “this” is? I don’t mean to overstate; I avoid risky behavior (mostly). It’s more concern about how I manage the differences I encounter, and how long I can avoid being a jerk about something, something often ultimately unimportant.

Barbara and I wanted to do a trip with some physically active components, and signed up for a self-guided multi-day bicycle ride from Passau to Vienna. In the above photo we were just leaving Passau at the beginning of our trip, and my apprehension was about how little riding we do at home and could we handle this distance–a question about both endurance and our buns’ ability to sit on a bike seat all day for several days. It’s awkward, at a minimum, to get in the middle of something and have to bail. Turned out to be easy, especially with E-bikes, and a great navigation program, furnished by the travel company.

Another concern was that I had stopped almost immediately at the beginning to make photographs of something interesting. There was something interesting, of course, the whole way, cycling on great bike paths, well-marked, along the Danube, and through fields and farmland, and picturesque villages and towns. It was all so pretty; our daily distance was short enough to amble along and enjoy the ride, but it was necessary for me to exert much discipline in not stopping every five minutes to shoot. We would never have made it to the next hotel before dark.

For more of Bill’s photographs, go to https://www.billdurrence.com/index

Scotland, 2013

Glamis Castle

Robert Capa supposedly said, “If your pictures aren’t strong enough, you’re not close enough.” While the phrase might have reached cliche status through repetition, it is still no less true. Most photographs suffer from too much information. (I know you were anxious to have my opinion on that.)

Plein air painting and street photography have some things in common–leaving the comfort and control of a studio, and focusing on ordinary, pedestrian subjects, but there is one fundamental, foundational difference, and I’m making no argument for either being superior, just different. Painting is additive. One starts with blank paper or canvas or …, and adds elements to build the composition.

Photography is subtractive. One starts with a given scene or situation and has to find ways to eliminate everything non-essential in that scene. A big first step (pardon the pun) is to get closer.

For more of Bill”s photographs, go to https://www.billdurrence.com/index/all