Saturday, November 25, 2006

Anja Jensen

This morning, I was reading Joerg Colberg's wonderful photogrphy blog Conscientious, and I came across the German photographer Anja Jensen's work. Anja has done a lot of coreographed night photography which explores our sense of security (or lack of it, as Colberg points out).

(photo: Anja Jensen)

Her photographs are made to look like surveillance photographs, with carefully placed spotlights and some colored light thrown in for effect. Her website says that she used to work as a baggage screener at a local airport, so I guess she has a good sense of how pry into people's personal life with cameras.

In a way, I find her work slightly annoying. Primarily because it's an idea that I've been working on, myself. She beat me to it, and has a done a fine job of it. We'll see what I come up with now that I have to put my own twist on this idea.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Same Lighthouse... Different Angle

After posting my shot of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Anniversary Lighting a few days ago, I also wanted to post a shot by a friend of mine, Roland Ruehl.

(photo: Roland Ruehl)

Roland is the person who told me about the anniversary lighting event at Pigeon Point. It always pays to let all of your friends and coworkers know about your peculiar photography interests. You never know when one of them will tell you about an interesting event or location that you never knew about.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Real Lighthouse Light

Once a year, Pigeon Point Lighthouse (just north of Santa Cruz, CA) turns off the fake lighthouse light (an airplane beacon) and turns on the real Fresnel lens for two hours to celebrate the anniversary of the original lighting over 140 years ago.

For the first five minutes, they hold the lens stationary so that all the photographers "can take their digital masterpieces before processing them on the computer in PhotoShop" (so said the announcer). After the first five minutes, they let the lens rotate at its normal speed.

(photo: Andy Frazer)

This is exactly what it looked like during the first five minutes. No star-effect filter, and no PhotoShop tricks. I never realized that a real lighthouse light was a collection of multiple beams. This was necessary because they couldn't make the huge lenses rotate very fast with the old machinery.

Despite my heroic efforts to bracket adequately within the five minute window, this shot (the brightest of the bunch) was still underexposed, so it's a bit grainy.

Thanks to Roland Ruehl for letting me know about this event.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Andrew Emond

Many night photographers are fascinated with abandoned buildings. In most cases, the bigger and more industrial-looking, the better. Ironically, one of the most popular geographical areas to be a night photographer, the San Francisco Bay Area, has a rather limited availability of big, abandoned industrial sites. Part of our problem in the Bay Area is the stratospheric property values. Nothing goes abandoned here for very long. It's not unheard of to bulldoze a historical property in order to turn a few bucks.

Of course, abandoned industrial sites are more common is places that used to host large industrial economic bases, such as the Great Lakes region in the United States and Canada. Andrew Emond is one photographer who is producing an amazing body of work photographing abandoned power plants and factories around America's Rust Belt (especially Buffalo, New York ) and southeastern Canada.

(photo: Andrew Emond)

The photograph above of a grain elevator in Montreal, is just one of many great night shots from Andrew's photoblog Worksongs. Worksongs is not exclusively night photographs. He's an urban explorer extraordinaire. Many of his shots are taken during the day, and many are deep underground where there's no light of day. But there are many night shots available on his site, such as the one above, all of which are well-executed.

It almost makes me want to pack up my tripod and cable release, and do a road trip up that part of the country(ies).

Friday, November 10, 2006

Night Photography Historians

Only one reader noticed an obvious historical inaccuracy in my previous post about Bill Brandt.

I incorrectly wrote that Brandt's nighttime images of the blacked out London during WWII were published in 1938. But only Fotoholik pointed out that WWII didn't start until 1939.

I looked into this a little further. Brandt's book A Night in London was published in 1938. But his photographs of London during the blackout were, obviously, not included in that book. St. Paul's Cathedral was taken in 1942. So, now the question is, in what book were his WWII photographs published? I don't know.

If anyone knows, please let me know.

Bill Brandt

Many night photographers like to work in dark locations, far away from city street lights. Someday I hope to be so famous that I'll be able to call up the mayor of any city in the United States and request that they shut off the power to the entire city for a hours so that I can get that once-in-a-lifetime full moon illumination of downtown sites.

But until that happens, I'll have to be satisfied with the occasional city-wide power outage (which only seem to happen under stormy skies).

But, what if you had the opportunity to shoot downtown night after night with not artificial light?

(St Paul's Cathedral in the Moonlight. photo: Bill Brandt)

Bill Brandt had that opportunity in London during WWII. Brandt was German photographer who lived most of his life in Britain. He worked from the 1930's through the 1960's, producing some landmark work of British society and distored, black-and-white nudes. But his most interesting work was done at night under cover of the mandatory black-outs.

During WWII, radar was in its infancy, and satellite tracking systems such as GPS did not exist. Bombing pilots had to be able to see their targets, so the British government required all lights to be turned off at night. That included building lights, street lights, headlights and house lights. My grandmother remembered how the goverment even delivered thick, black curtains to everyone in London in order block the glow of gas lanterns inside the house. Imagine that: the entire city of London in total darkness... night after night.

Possibly inspired by Brassai's night photographs of Paris, Bill Brandt produced a series of seedy night photographs in A Night in London (1938), which can be had for little more than the price of a full-frame DSLR. A few years later, during WWII, Brandt seized the opportunity and produced some amazing photographs of bombed out London at night, such as St Paul's Cathedral in the Moonlight (above).

I've never seen a real copy of A Night in London. And the photo above is the only shot from the book that I've ever seen in reprint. If anyone has any links to more photos from this book (or, if anyone actually has this book), please let me know.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Practice Sometimes Pays Off

When I began focusing my attention on night photography six years ago, I vowed to go out shooting once every full moon. I figured that would get me out twelve times per year, or sixty times over the next five years. And I figured that sixty night photography excursions would make me into some hot stuff.

Then one day I compared my plan to that of some world-class artists. Picasso painted every day. Professional ballerinas practice every day, as do the musicians down in "the pit". PGA tour golfers go out and practice every day, even immediately after picking up their awards for winning a major tournament. Would Eddie Van Halen have gotten to where he is if he only practiced his arpeggio hammers and pull-offs once a month? Years ago I took a workshop on writing a novel. The instructor told us that if you can't commit to writing something every day, you didn't have a chance of ever getting published.

I decided that if I wanted to really improve at night photography, I had to get out there and shoot more than once a month. In fact, I realized it's also better to experiment with new lighting techniques and new equipment in between the full moons, when shooting time is a premium.

(Peterson Field, Sunnyvale)

When I get restless on a weeknight, and when I only have about one hour of free time, I often go down to the only marginally-interesting location near my home. It's a recreation field next to a local middle school (often refered to as a junior high school in some parts of the country). It's big enough to get away from direct streetlight, and the old dugouts and bleachers are better than nothing to photograph. Add to the fact that it may get bulldozed to make room for townhomes, I feel like I can't take enough photographs of this place.

(Peterson Field, Sunnyvale)

I've probably got more digital photographs of Peterson Field than anyone else. Not only have I been able to practice some things that would have otherwise wasted my precious full moon shooting time, but sometimes I actually get a shot that I really like.

The shot with the orange sky was taken during a short break between the rain. I was sitting home drooling over other night photographers' websites, and I was getting restless. It was also a few months after I started shooting with my first digital camera. I just wanted to shoot something other than the recycling bins in my backyard. Small puffy clouds were racing overhead, and I tried to not let the poison of the sodium vapor light bother me. And I got lucky. A large version of that shot hung in the Sunnyvale Public Safety Office for over a year. It also hung in the hallway of my previous employer for half a year (it would still be there if the company hadn't gone out of business).

The shot of the inside of the dugout was taken a few months ago when, as usual, I got restless one weeknight. I had been thinking about working more with a bare flashlight instead of a gel-covered flash, and I just wanted to experiment with a few lighting angles. I took about fifteen shots in just over an hour. Two night photographers, whose opinions I greatly respect, each told me they though it was one of the best shots I'd ever taken.

So whenever I think about how I've consistently been shooting that whopping twelve times per year, I just ask myself what's my excuse for not shooting those other 355 nights that year?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Mother Road

U.S. Route 66 seems to have captured the imagination of many night photographers.

On Wednesday, November 8 at 9:00pm, KTEH in San Francisco is going to air the film "The Mother Road", which celebrates Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. If you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, "check your local listings", as they say.

Vegas Valley Book Fair

Bay Area night photographer Troy Paiva will be participating in the fifth annual Vegas Valley Book Festival this weekend. They will be (their quotes) "celebrating the written, spoken and illustrated word. Located in the heart of the downtown Las Vegas Arts District, this free literary and arts event includes two full days of readings, book discussions, workshops, and spoken word performances." Other writers scheduled to be there include Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), Chuck Klosterman (Columnist with SPIN, Esquire etc.) and many other writers and artists not named Chuck.

(photo: Troy Paiva)

On saturday the 4th, Troy will be part of a panel discussion where they'll be talking about "American Icons, Language and Landscape." He will also be doing a digital slide presentation, too.

231 W. Charleston #110 from 3-4:30. Click here for more (but minimal) information.

And while he's in Las Vegas, he'll also be giving a presentation/lecture at the Las Vegas Art Institute on Friday, November 3rd, from 3 to 4:30PM. He'll be doing a digital slide presentation and talking about his technique, locations and whatever else you want to talk about.

The Art Institute of Las Vegas
2350 Corporate Circle
Henderson, Nevada

All you Las Vegas night shooters are invited to stop by and say "Hello".