Category Archives: Monochrome

Palace of King Charles V in the Alhambra

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain was first a fortress, and then a fairy-tale palace built as a citadel on a hill by the Moorish rulers of Andalusia. Conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella at about the time Columbus sailed the to the “new” world, the place fell into neglect until it was rediscovered by the romantic movement (and the author Washington Irving) in the early 1800s. Alhambra, California is named after this place, and the genuine Alhambra in Granada is today one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain.

Alhambra © Harold Davis

Alhambra © Harold Davis

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was also the King of Spain, and ruled the largest empire in terms of land mass of all times. He ordered an imperial palace to be build within the footprint of the Alhambra.

Palace of Charles V  © Harold Davis

Palace of Charles V © Harold Davis

The exterior of the Palace of Charles V is massive. It is fairly regular and unspectacular on the outside, and seems (unsurprisingly) quite imperial in its aesthetic. What is unusual is the curvilinear nature of the interior courtyard putting the building (as Wikipedia puts it) in the avant-garde of its time. You can see the image of the Palace of Charles V above in a larger size by clicking on it.

Palace of Charles V (color) © Harold Davis

Palace of Charles V (color) © Harold Davis

Antoni Gaudi and the shell game

Antoni Gaudi, the architect of the fabulous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Catalonia, liked to use organic shapes of nature in his designs. Hence the pillars in the Sagrada Familia cathedral bear a striking resemblance to trees, and the interior of the spires in the church bear the stamp of Gaudi’s life-long fascination with embodying nature in architecture since these spiral stairs resemble the interiors of spiral shells.

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire © Harold Davis

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire © Harold Davis

You’ll see what I mean if you check out the interior and exterior views of this spiral shell of the Architectonica genus, shown below, and compare with the Sagrada Familia spiral.

Architectonica Spiral (inward) © Harold Davis

Architectonica Spiral (inward) © Harold Davis

Check out the macro photo shot straight up and through the Architectonica, and compare with the view inside the Sagrada Familia spire at the bottom of this story:

Architectonica Spiral (outward) © Harold Davis

Architectonica Spiral (outward) © Harold Davis

If you are curious, here’s the way the Architectonica shell spiral looks from the outside:

Architectonica Spiral © Harold Davis

Architectonica Spiral © Harold Davis

Incidentally, the views inside the Sagrada Familia spire shown at the top of this story and below were shot hand-held at ISO 51,200. You can read the related blog story to see why this was my best technical choice in the circumstances, and the only way to get a photo in the location—and an approach that would not have been feasible even a few short years ago.

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire (looking up) © Harold Davis

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire (looking up) © Harold Davis

San Francisco Dreams in Black and White

San Francisco dreams in black and white. Please come visit my new virtual gallery of San Francisco in Black and White!

Noir City Dreams  © Harold Davis

Noir City Dreams © Harold Davis

What goes on behind the shades in the lit window of an anonymous apartment in the big city? Meanwhile, the moon rises over the proverbial skyline.

San Francisco Moonrise © Harold Davis

San Francisco Moonrise © Harold Davis

And the sun sets on a day of low tides behind the Golden Gate…

Sunset at Minus Tide © Harold Davis

Sunset at Minus Tide © Harold Davis

Peter

Peter is a neighbor and a good man. These days, he mostly takes care of his disabled adult son.

Peter © Harold Davis

Peter © Harold Davis

Photographed hand-held with my Zeiss Otus 85mm lens at 1/3200 of a second and ISO 500, wide open at f/1.4. The Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 is a masterful portrait lens.

An amusement park for adults

Downtown Porto, Portugal’s second city, has aspects of an amusement park for adults, without being cloying. There’s a great river with boats of every kind, an old town with ancient structures—some a little scruffy, but nothing too disreputable—funiculars, cog railway elevators, and a number of bridges, including a great 19th century cast-iron structure coming from the incomparable Gustav Eiffel’s studio. Not to mention great food, and plenty of port wine to taste.

Ponte Luis I  © Harold Davis

Ponte Luis I © Harold Davis

On the Eiffel bridge—Ponte Luis I—cars are relegated to the bottom. The upper level is a vertigo-inducing walkway for pedestrians, and a platform for the light rail system.

Porto via IPhone © Harold Davis

Porto via IPhone © Harold Davis

It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying walking around the waterfront area of this city at night. As the wind and weather changes, so do the reflections in the Duoro River—but each time and in every way the view is charming.

Ponte Luis I  © Harold Davis

Ponte Luis I © Harold Davis

Interested in seeing the world with me, and making unusual photos in night time as well as during the daytime? Check out my upcoming autumn photography trip to the Sea-Girt Villages of Italy.

Related story: Travels with Samantha.

Cotter Pin

The cotter pin, also sometimes called a split pin, is piece of metal separated into two tines. The tines are bent outwards in installation, and the cotter pin is used to hold two pieces of metal together where the design implies some movement—or even rotation between—the metal segments that are attached.

Cotter Pin © Harold Davis

Cotter Pin © Harold Davis

While the cotter pin is attributed as an invention of Dr Rudolph Cotter in the 1834, there is little doubt that informal variations of this kind of fastener have been in use ever since the very earliest days of the industrial revolution, when the need to flexibly but strongly attach two pieces of metal became important—probably the 1750s or 1760s.

As such, the cotter pin is a great symbol and proxy for the good side of industrial humanity, namely the inventiveness and improvisational ability with which as a species we can approach the mechanical universe. It’s a simple but supple solution, strong, and easy to implement with materials at hand.

The cotter pin shown is at one end of a counting device, probably used in a 19th century industrial assembly line.

I wanted to use my wonderfully sharp Zeiss Otus 85mm lens to photograph the small cotter pin up close and personal, but I needed to get a little closer. So I used an old Nikon PN-11 52.5mm extension tube (Nikon has long since discontinued this part). I retrofitted the extension tube with a tripod collar and tripod plate, which helped to balance the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4, which is a truly extraordinary lens with a weight to match the quality of the optics.

Exposure data: Nikon D810, Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4, Nikon PN-11 52.5mm extension tube, 5 seconds at f/16 and ISO 64, tripod mounted.

Related story: Workbench.

Succulent

Succulent © Harold Davis

Succulent © Harold Davis

Shot along the paths of Berkeley, California with my iPhone, and processed primarily using the Snapseed app iPhone while waiting for long exposures to complete. Having a camera and a digital darkroom in one’s phone means never being bored!

Megaliths Modern and Ancient

There are probably more neolithic sites in Portugal than anywhere else in Europe. While I was trying to locate a large neolithic site near Evora, Samantha guided me beneath a freeway. Highways like this in Portugal are great for long distance travelers—they automatically dock the toll out of a device in your car—but carry little traffic and are essentially public works projects that are highways to nowhere.

Freeway to nowhere © Harold Davis

Freeway to nowhere © Harold Davis

Staring up at the freeway silhouetted to infinity against the sky, I mused on how ephemeral it all is. The megalith shown below is from a neolithic installation that is perhaps 25,000 years old. No one knows what it really was for; maybe, like Stonehenge it was part of some kind of large astronomical measurement site. For neolithic man, moving these huge stones into position on a hillside surrounded by cork trees must have been a tremendous undertaking.

In years to come, freeways to nowhere may also decay, get covered with lichen, disconnect and become fragmentary. Then people from the future (if there are any) may wonder about who built these huge structure at such great effort, and to what end (does the gap stretching towards infinity between the lanes point at a specific star?)

The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley put this best in Ozymandius (written in the early 1800s):

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Megalith © Harold Davis

Megalith © Harold Davis

Falling Water

Recent winter rainstorms have battered the San Francisco area in Northern California with much needed rain. In a break in the weather I decided to hike to Cataract Falls on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais. Usually when I visit this area following a heavy downpour the creek is running muddy and is heavy with run-off. This time, the rain had been persistent and long-lasting enough over many days that all the mud had run its course, and the creek was clear, with pure white cataracts. The lighting was bright and overcast, and made no significant shadows.

Falling Water #5 © Harold Davis

Falling Water #5 © Harold Davis

I set my tripod up beside the creek, on a spot where I could look up at the primary falls, and took a few establishing shots up the creek and down the creek. Then I stopped to simply be present in the magic of moment of time and place.

Falling Water #4 © Harold Davis

Falling Water #4 © Harold Davis

It came to me that I didn’t need to make another image of this waterfall as it stood in the reality of the world. Instead, I became interested in the ever-changed gesture of water that I saw, very simple, and always in black and white.

Falling Water #3 © Harold Davis

Falling Water #3 © Harold Davis

This kind of image is about the poetry of water in motion reduced to a minimum. Lengthening the exposure time—to a five to ten second duration—softens the water and allows the gesture the water is making to become the subject of the photo.

Falling Water #2 © Harold Davis

Falling Water #2 © Harold Davis

It’s not about a place, but is discovery of an archetype and an abstraction. As such, there’s a commonality in approach and technique to Photographing Waves.

Falling Water #1 © Harold Davis

Falling Water #1 © Harold Davis

Ruined Kasbah

According to our guide Abdul, the indigenous construction in Morocco is very environmentally friendly: made of earth and sand, when it is no longer used it gradually decays back to the soil from which it was made. Many structures in fact are crumbling, such as this Kasbah in Ouarzazate, Morocco.

Ruined Kasbah  © Harold Davis

Ruined Kasbah © Harold Davis

After settling into our hotel, and a good meal at a restaurant nearby that included both camel and pigeon, I went exploring for night photography with a friend. Stepping into abandoned ruins, this ancient Kasbah struck stark silhouettes, partly enhanced by ambient light from the town, against a backdrop of the bright stars of the sub-Saharan night. Indeed, it was crumbling back into the earth from which it was made!

Exposure information: Nikon D810, Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 lens, tripod mounted; two combined exposures at f/5.6 and ISO 200, exposure times one minute and 2.5 minutes.

Terraces in Portugal

In the Upper Douro Valley of Portugal the grapes are grown that become the famous port wine that has made Oporto, Portugal’s second city on the banks of the Douro River where it meets the Atlantic, a commercial center since time immemorial. The vines are grown on steep terraces, created over the centuries by hand. This area is a World Heritage Site, and looking at the immensity of the labor involved in this landscape one can surely understand why.

Terraces © Harold Davis

Terraces © Harold Davis

I shot this image handheld across the valley of a river a tributary to the Douro River on a late autumn day with quickly shifting cloud cover. Of course, this is a composition of patterns on a large scale. Abstractly, one could almost be looking at sine waves rather than stone terraces. Look closely, and you can see the staircases used to navigate from one level to the next.

But the eye needs some relief, so when I chose the portion of this vast landscape to render I let a road curve and meander through the frame from left to right, and balanced the road with a bright spot of light coming through the clouds, and coming down from the upper right.

Here’s the color version of the photo:

Terraces, Upper Douro Valley, Portugal © Harold Davis

Terraces, Upper Douro Valley, Portugal © Harold Davis

A room with a view

When I travel I always try to select hotels that are likely to have interesting views, and to request a room with a view if possible. Of course, my idea of an interesting view doesn’t always coincide with the normal tourist vista! I do look around carefully to see what I might like to photograph when I get to my new “home away from home.” The photo below was taken out of the ninth floor window of my hotel room in Barcelona, Spain at the Avenida Palace Hotel facing south towards Montjuic. I like the collage of heating ducts as much as the details that show that the scene in is in Barcelona.

View of a Barcelona Roof © Harold Davis

View of a Barcelona Roof © Harold Davis

Some other examples of my passion for photographing from (or of) hotel room windows include this view out a back window of the pre-renovation Hotel Lutece in Paris showing (once again) complicated duct work, this view of my window on the cathedral in Bourg, France, as much about the lighting as about the incredible church (the related iPhone capture shows a bit more of the room itself), this view down on the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona from the Hotel Espanya showing an unusual angle on the medieval section of town, and the view from my room over the Bay of Tangiers at night in Morocco shown below.

Bay of Tangiers at Night © Harold Davis

Bay of Tangiers at Night © Harold Davis

Onward to Morocco

Tomorrow we take the ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa. How fitting then to spend our last day in Spain exploring Granada and the fabulous Alhambra—the fabled palace that was the last redoubt of the Moorish Kingdom in Spain!

Detail, Alhambra, Granada © Harold Davis

Detail, Alhambra, Granada © Harold Davis

Pilgrimage to Rocamadour

High above a tributary of the Lot River in the Dordogne Department in southwestern France, Rocamadour has attracted pilgrims for centuries. The town sits below an ecclesiastical complex of monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches. These days, there’s an elevator between the town level and the shrine level, but some pilgrims still complete their pilgrimages in the traditional way, by climbing on their knees up the Grand Escalier—Grand Stairway–shown in this image.

Grand Escalier,  Rocamadour © Harold Davis

Grand Escalier, Rocamadour © Harold Davis

In this photo you see a row of tourist restaurants to the right of the stairs. There are also hotels (I stayed at one, and it was very nice) and souvenir shops. This probably hasn’t changed much over time, when similar services were needed by the pilgrims who’ve flocked to Rocamadour since medieval times.

I’m struck by how similar the concept of ritual, religious tourism is centers in Japan such as Koya-san and Nachi-san. Although undoubtedly the stone-bound setting from medieval France is far more grim.

If you climb up the Grand Escalier—on your knees or otherwise—here’s the view you’ll see of the towering, militarized religious complex.

The Citadel of Rocamadour © Harold Davis

The Citadel of Rocamadour © Harold Davis

Here are two iPhone images of the same location:

Pilgrim Stairs © Harold Davis

Pilgrim Stairs © Harold Davis

Sanctuary © Harold Davis

Sanctuary © Harold Davis

Dasha

I photographed the beautiful model Dasha as part of my Multiple Exposures sequence in Variations, I never know which me, Quo Vadis and Dance of the Seven Veils. I was asked recently whether I had any images of Dasha that weren’t part of a multiple exposure sequence. Well, of course I do. This one was supposed to be part of a multiple exposure, but I forgot to set the camera to combine the images, so I got eight individual exposures—also explaining the in-motion look of the model.

Dasha © Harold Davis

Dasha © Harold Davis

Exposure and post-production information: Photographed against a black background using studio strobes, Nikon D810, Otus 55mm f/1.4, at 1/160 of a second and f/8 using ISO 100, post-processed to black & white using Nik Silver Efex Pro and the Infrared preset as a Photoshop Black & White Adjustment Layer. I then added Flypaper Etched Copper from the Metallic collection as a texture overlay, and reconverted (converted a second time) to black and white.