December 22, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

                MY TAKE ON AN OLD SIGN

Sometimes you are just walking around, minding your own business, when something catches the corner of your eye. Since you are a photographer, you always have your camera with you, even if it is just your phone. These moments of serendipity can be quickly forgotten, especially if like me, you frequently shoot from the hip. While the compositional possibilities might have provoked your interest, that doesn't mean that you came anywhere near nailing the exposure, or even getting anywhere near it. Since I wasn't even sure there was a real subject, I certainly don't "work it" that day. The initial unloved snapshot is relegated to my archives. If it survives at all is just a matter of chance in the maelstrom of my "organization."

But walking around is not limited to the day of shooting. Once again I am suggesting that if it is just a horrible day out, and you are not on vacation, then perhaps it is time to take another walkabout in your archives to see what can catch your eye. Here are another three examples of what I found today after returning to walks I took around town six or seven(!) years ago. I have no idea if these scenes still exist, but that doesn't matter, since there they are on my hard drive, ready for resurrection.

                THE OLD SIGN

I was walking in the Pearl District back in 2017 when I passed this historical remnant on the side of a new condo. Redevelopment sometimes yields these historical artifacts as blank walls are either uncovered or saved to give new construction some historical patina. This happens frequently in the Pearl District since building sites, both new ones and historical, did not take up the whole of the block. A lot of the existing structures were very traditional masonry warehouses that were so stoutly constructed that it is easier to incorporate them into the new project than to tear them down. When you are confronted with an existing building whose wood structural posts are as thick as trees, and provide a fire rating equal to whatever steel structure you would have to replace them with, "adaptive reuse" rears its complicated head. This old dairy sign is certainly older than I am, and I'm no "spring chicken."

                REJUVENATED OLD SIGN

A few minutes of effort on the computer brightened up my subject and my day. Very judicious cropping tightened things up at the edges, removing some distractions that might have only been distracting to me. I increased the contrast in my usual manner, achieving some true blacks and more importantly bringing up the highlights to achieve a sunnier old party wall. These moves lightened the exposure without lightening the overall exposure, and the onluy saturation I changed was a little oomph to the reds which I couldn't resist. I then tried to clean things up a bit, which was pretty funny when you consider that I was making an image of a weather beaten old sign. The magical erasure brush was employed to eliminate the "crap" - telephone lines, offending tree branches and even ancient graffiti, so that the old sign could shine anew.

                                                                  AN INNOCENT FORAY INTO "STREET PHOTOGRAPHY"

It's not really hard to "Keep Portland Weird" when it seems to do just fine all by itself. This sidewalk scene appeared on a bench in the Sellwood neighborhood back in October 2017. I laughed, quickly moved on, and forgot all about it since the exposure seemed all wrong and the context was too distracting. I took another walk in my archives today and managed to correct most of the flaws of the original image. I cropped the top of the image to eliminate the black triangle. I then took advantage of Lightroom's new Artificial Intelligence Masking tool, which picked out the "subject" - our malnourished fellow - so well that it was then no trouble to "invert" the mask to selectively lower the exposure of the background. I then raised the whites of the skeleton to further increase the contrast in the scene.

                                                                  A STANDOUT KIND OF GUY

Our friend is just as dead but certainly seems a lot livelier. The image is certainly silly, or as Fran would say "whimsical." Since I live in Portland, Oregon, the image almost counts as "documentary" - it doesn't really surprise me at all.

                                                                 BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE

The last image for today comes from a walk in the neighborhood in 2018. This bark caught my eye just like it does almost every time I walk by the tree, and I took yet another inconsequential and pretty incompetent snapshot. Today I resolved to see what I could make of it.

                                       GRAPHIC BARK

You certainly do not have to fall down to your knees over the improvements, but this image is a lot closer to what I feel about the tree. The square crop eliminates most of the compositional errors of the original. It is now completely clear that the subject is the extraordinary result of the shedding of the bark to allow for a new spurt of growth for the tree, which reveals the vibrant color beneath the surface. I am no longer documenting the tree, but I think that I am asking you to consider the graphical power of this natural event. I subtly increased the saturation of the reds, reduced the yellows, and darkened the remaining bark on the left and right to reduce distractions from my subject.

As the weather turns nastier and nastier, I encourage to take some walks in your archives and find some moments from nicer days in the past that you can interpret as your individual reactions to your environment. This is the real way to make your photography really your own.