Category Archives: Monochrome

Blast from the Past: Sacré Coeur Passage

Originally published June 26, 2013:

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre sits high on a hill overlooking Paris. Controversial from long before the start of construction, the design of Sacré Coeur was a response to the supposed “moral decline” of France in the century following the French revolution, with the more proximate cause the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

If this defeat represented divine punishment, as asserted by Bishop Fournier, then Sacré Coeur was an iconic response by the hard right-wing allied with monarchists and the Catholic church to the democratic rabble of Paris and the commune. This was not the first, nor the last, time that the forces of repression and the church were on the same side against their common enemy, the people when empowered—but it still was a bitter pill for some to swallow standing tall above the city of light.

Sacré Coeur Passage © Harold Davis

Sacré Coeur Passage © Harold Davis

Visited by millions of people a year, Sacré Coeur gets surprisingly little traffic up in the passage that circles the grand dome.  Perhaps the narrow and twisting stairs—all 280 of them—inhibit guests. The views are superb, as you can see in another image of mine from the dome that includes that other Parisian icon, the Eiffel tower.

Up in the passage around the dome of Sacré Coeur, the “rabble” has had its revenge. On the one hand, it is sad to see the elegant surfaces defaced by layer upon layer of graffiti and a general patina of neglect over time. On the other hand, this defilement—at least in part a deliberate statement—stands as mute testament to the true sentiments of many of those who visit: as much as a holy temple, Sacré Coeur is a political symbol created by those who would keep the people in their place.

Patina of Time © Harold Davis

Patina of Time © Harold Davis

Exposure data, Sacré Coeur Passage: 22mm, eight exposures at shutter speeds between 1/20 of a second and 3 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures processed in Nik HDr Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Silver Efex Pro; Patina of Time: 82mm, seven exposures at shutter speeds between 1/30 of a second and 1.3 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures processed in Nik HDr Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Topaz Adjust, and Nik Silver Efex Pro

Also posted in France, Paris, Photography

Patterns in Fishnet

The quest for an interesting photographic image is in large part the need to find order in an inherently chaotic universe. Even if that quest ends up showing disorder, it is usually in an orderly way. The search is a search for patterns, for that brief moment when the entropy of life reveals itself as not random after all.

Fishnet Stockings and Gloves © Harold Davis

Fishnet Stockings and Gloves © Harold Davis

The subject matter is irrelevant. If the patterns are exciting, they can range from Manarola and the Rooftops of Paris to the arms and legs of a model in fishnet stockings (shown in this story)—and beyond!

These fishnet stocking photos are fairly straightforward from a photographic technique perspective. I placed the model on a black background, and used two diffused strobes (one on either side) for lighting.

It’s not hard to make out the subject matter—arms and legs of a model in fishnet stockings and gloves.

Fishnet Stockings © Harold Davis

Fishnet Stockings © Harold Davis

What’s a little less obvious is that the intent is essentially sculptural. These are not particularly suggestive or erotic photos. The idea is to use the pattern generated by the rectilinear stocking design to create a sense of sculptural volume. The model’s arms and legs can easily be seen as abstractions, and I like to imagine what these would be like if they were recreated on a big scale as literal three-dimensional sculptures. The feeling would be rather different than as photographic prints in a photo frame!

Leg and Arm © Harold Davis

Leg and Arm © Harold Davis

Also posted in Patterns, Photography

Piazza San Marco at Night

One reason to photograph at night in a tourist destination is, as I explained in Photographing the Bridge of Sighs at Night, to avoid selfie-stick-toting tour groups. Another reason is to present a different emotional aspect of the place, as in this image of the Piazza San Marco.

Piazza San Marco © Harold Davis

Piazza San Marco © Harold Davis

During daylight hours, and well into the evening in warm months, San Marco is of course jam-packed. Competing classical schmaltz bands strive to drive tourists into over-priced outdoor cafes. Public events are staged in the square. But at night, when it is foggy and chill, the piazza empties. Symmetrical lighting adds to the symmetry of the architecture, and it is possible to capture an entirely new view of the Piazza San Marco.

Also posted in Digital Night, Italy, Photography

And now for something completely different…

This is an in-camera double exposure I made on Saturday. The model is Anastasia Arteyeva.

Shelter Within © Harold Davis

Shelter Within © Harold Davis

Related images: View more of my Multiple Exposures (slide show).

Also posted in Models

Lost City in Sorrento

Adjacent to the center of picturesque Sorrento, Italy two chasms meet. Long ago, rivers in these gorges flowed cleanly down to the ocean, and were the original settlement in the area. Over time, and thanks in part to construction of the new town of Sorrento, the area became isolated from the harbor and increasingly damp. In modern times, it has been abandoned to the ferns and other vegetation, although the old mill shown in these photos was in use until the late 1800s.

Lost City © Harold Davis

Lost City © Harold Davis

Known as the “Valley of the Mills,” a very short walk from the Piazzo Tasso in central Sorrento leads to a vista point. The Valley of the Mills itself is surrounded by luxury hotels. For me, the most interesting thing visually about the scene is the way the modern city sits right on top of the ancient lost city, with little to differentiate the two—except that the lost city is buried in ferns and slowly and romantically reverting to the materials of the rugged chasms in which it lies.

Lost City 2 © Harold Davis

Lost City 2 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Italy

Hieroglyphic or La Dolce Vita

Sunbathing on the boat ramp in Riomaggiore harbor could be La Dolce Vita—the sweet life, and the name of a 1960 Fellini film. Except that the angle of repose causes most of these couples to anchor themselves using wood slots to stop from sliding into the water. Alternatively, as one commentator noted, photographed from above, La Dolce Vita looks for all the world like an abstraction, or a hieroglyphic.

Riomaggiore, 2015 © Harold Davis

Riomaggiore, 2015 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Italy

Canyon Conundrum

The seaside village of Vernazza, Italy makes its living from catching fishes and catering to tourists. Carved into the rocky ledges of the Ligurian coast, behind the village facade facing the sea is a warren and maze of narrow, dark passages with twisting stairs and low tunnels.

Canyons of Vernazza © Harold Davis

Canyons of Vernazza © Harold Davis

Wandering into this maze with my camera and tripod, I felt an eerie sense of having faced similar photographic challenges before. With the narrow, enclosed spaces and the mere glimmer of the sky, the compositional and lighting challenges were much the same as those in the slot canyons of the American southwest.

Both environments present a dynamic range from blackest black to brightest white, and both involve creating images that turn narrow spaces into interesting creative expressions. Strangely, while taking my time in the depths of Vernazza I could almost feel the dry, sandy breath of Antelope Canyon, on Navajo territory near Page, Arizona.

Structure of Time © Harold Davis

Structure of Time © Harold Davis

Related stories: Orange Juice on the Cinque Terre Trail; Structure of Time; Slot Canyon.

Also posted in Italy

Leaning Tower

On our way from Florence to Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast of Italy, we stopped to climb the Leaning Tower—Torre Pendente in Italian—of Pisa. It’s a marvelous structure, even if it does “lean in” (as they say these days)! But experientially, the visit has some disorienting aspects across several domains.

Leaning Tower © Harold Davis

Leaning Tower © Harold Davis

First, there’s the physical disorientation of climbing a spiral stair that is on an angle, and passing windows that are successively just a little bit sideways. By the way, I saw a woman climb these stairs in the highest of heels, quite a feat! But I digress.

Something about this disorientation leads to a popular phenomenon: the “selfie” with the Leaning Tower that uses perspective to distort the scale of things. In these selfies, the perpetrator is either “pushing” the tower over, or “propping” it up with gigantic figures out of proportion compared to the tower.

There always seems to be a crowd at the Leaning Tower’s piazza: sellers of plastic models, police, tourists, crowds. Gated admission is by advance ticket sales in groups every 15 minutes, with security pat-downs. This is not a quiet place, in fact it is a bit overwhelming. Security is very tight, no bags of any sort are allowed up the tower (don’t even dream of taking your tripod!).

So this is the other facet of disorientation: modern life seems to intrude in an objectionable way in a place that is visited because of a structure that didn’t perform to specifications and is almost a thousand years old. Go figure!

When all is said and done, if you get the chance, don’t miss climbing the tower.  It’s worth the disorientation and logistical hassles.

Also posted in Italy

Prague Architectural Studies: Keeping Things Simple with 25 Squares

The assignment: Photograph a sequence or cohesive group of imagery using only one lens, aperture priority metering, and a single aperture and ISO. Process the resulting images using a uniformly-proportioned crop, and a single processing recipe.

The results: Twenty-five square-cropped monochromatic images in a series of architectural studies of Prague in the Czech Republic. The series includes the image below, photographed from one of the towers on the Charles Bridge. Click here to see all twenty-five images grouped in my Prague Architectural Studies gallery.

The point of the assignment: The assignment is a warm-up exercise for many of the exercises in Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook. The point is to practice keeping thing simple in a complicated world. I see the exercise as analogous to a concert pianist playing scales: the fingers are working, the eye is engaged, and it is an easy transition into the zone.

Stay tuned: Stay tuned for a downloadable PDF “Bonus Exercise” in the style of the workbook that accompanies Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook. The PDF will have all the assignment details, and some advice about how best to approach this assignment, so you can try it for yourself.

Prague Architectural Study 23 © Harold Davis

Prague Architectural Study 23 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Czech, Writing

Ranch on Point Reyes

On Point Reyes in the spring, I photographed the details of the deteriorating buildings in the historic (but abandoned) D Ranch. Walking back towards my car I turned and saw the ranch buildings against a dramatic sky. There was no choice: I had to pull out my camera and tripod again. The ominous appearance of the clouds was exaggerated by adding a polarizer, and by creating a long exposure by using a neutral density filter.

D Ranch (Black and White) © Harold Davis

D Ranch (Black and White) © Harold Davis

I like the image best in black and white, but the color version has some appeal as well.

 

D Ranch (Color) © Harold Davis

D Ranch (Color) © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape, Point Reyes

From Heaven to Hell

Poet William Blake wrote about building a Hell in Heaven’s despite, and the cognitive dissonance of traveling in Japan often put me in mind of this poem of Blake’s (which also describes building a Heaven in Hell’s despair). In Japan, there’s an aesthetic that embraces remarkable beauty, and at the same time is able to create landscapes that bear a passing resemblance to Hell itself, from the vast human ant piles of the urban Japan to the industry on the shores of the Inland Sea.

Fern Forest © Harold Davis

Fern Forest © Harold Davis

Less the thirty miles apart as the crane flies, the peaceful, serene, and fern-filled landscape along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (above) somehow manages to reside in the same consciousness as the heavy industry in the port of Wakayama (below).

Shores of the Inland Sea © Harold Davis

Shores of the Inland Sea © Harold Davis

I photographed the image of the Fern Forest on a wet and dripping day, with the sun starting to come through the overcast skies. Everything I needed was in my backpack, and I waited for the wind to still as I used my umbrella to protect the camera on its tripod from raindrops. Exposure data: 36mm, 1/13 of a second at f/8 and ISO 400, tripod mounted.

The photograph of industry on the shores of Japan’s Inland Sea is from the “Big Tuna” ferry heading from the port of Wakayama on Honshu to Tokushima on Shikoku Island. In processing this image, I regarded the industrial landscape as a kind of abstraction, almost mirroring the kind of calligraphy sometimes used in Japan. Exposure data: 300mm, 1/800 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held.

Related: Japan category on my blog.

Also posted in Japan, Landscape

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

The modernism of the underpinnings of this bridge over the Seine River in Paris, France belies the ornate fancifulness of the bridge from above. This is one of the joys of photographing in Paris—styles with huge inherent differences are cheek and jowl together, and somehow work in harmony.

From a formal viewpoint, this is a photo with a great deal of symmetry in lines and construction. But for me the composition works because of the unusual negative space cut-out, across to the opposite bank of the river.

Exif data: Nikon D800, 35mm, six exposures at shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/8 of a second, each exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 50, tripod mounted; combined and converted from RAW in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, processed in Photoshop, Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, and Topaz Simplify; converted to black and white using the LAB color space in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Also posted in Paris, Photography

Unmade Bed in homage to Lilo Raymond

My friend and mentor Lilo Raymond died a few years ago. Lilo was a wonderful photographer with a wonderful eye, who fled from the Nazis as a youth and ended up settled in a small Hudson River village. Probably Lilo’s most famous photos are of pillows and unmade beds—so this iPhone shot of my empty bed taken in my hotel room on Monhegan Island, Maine should be seen as homage to Lilo.

Unmade Bed © Harold Davis

Unmade Bed © Harold Davis

Phyllis describes meeting Lilo for the first time as an “encounter with a force of nature,” which is apt enough. I truly miss Lilo.

Regarding unmade beds, the question is always what was in them before they transitioned into the unmade state. Lilo’s photos manage to convey graphic compositional perfection with the suggestion of rumpled love-making, adding the human touch to inanimate objects.

But I’ve also seen one of her photos licensed to a programming text book, with the caption, “An unmade bed is like an uninitialized variable, you never know what you’ll find in it.” So there is a universality to these images that belie the modest apparent subject matter.

In some ways, the beds, tangled sheets, and curtains in front of stark windows that form Lilo’s images make up the “day material,” to use Freud’s term, that can be used as a projective device for the deeper material lying below the conscious that bubbles up in dreams. In other words, there is more to Lilo’s imagery than meets the eye.

Also posted in iPhone

Happy Birthday Mom

The other day we celebrated my Mom’s 86th birthday. My Mom, Virginia Davis, is a working artist, deeply interested in the textiles and art of Mexico. So it seems appropriate that her reflection in this photo is apparently examining the reproductions of paintings by Frida Kahlo on the walls of the restaurant where we held her birthday party.

Happy Birthday Mom © Harold Davis

Happy Birthday Mom © Harold Davis

Old Train Bridge

Old Train Bridge © Harold Davis

Old Train Bridge © Harold Davis

I photographed this old train bridge in Maine, with the idea of extending the apparent length of the bridge visually as far as I could. To achieve this goal in post-production I used a similar technique to that in World without End, namely compositing the background image with successively smaller versions of itself. In World without End, the endless doors yield ultimately at the single pixel level to a wall with my initials carved in it. In the current image, I pasted a silly selfie rather than my initials.

You can see what I mean in the screen capture below since you won’t be able to get close enough to see me via the image on your monitor. To see my selfie which is at the pixel level, you’d need a good print and a magnifying glass, or a high resolution file and a good monitor.

I fancy this fantasy makes me a little like a train, and I am mindful of a few of the Stephen King novels in which “Blaine the Train” and others of his ilk have rather nasty personalities. But bear with me: I promise to be a nice train!

Photoshop CCScreenSnapz001