GRAPHIC ARCHITECTURAL EXERCISE
Today as I write this essay I'm getting a little stir crazy after day six of another Winter Storm Event. At least the local news has resisted naming these infrequent storms; the UK recently gave in to this nonsense, naming storms like hurricanes to add more to the crisis atmosphere. Portland seems content to just close down, which is OK by me since I am now a "pensioner" with no real need to go out and about when I should stay at home. Our power went out for only a few hours, so I have no real reason to complain. And I did get to the grocery store for one quick trip a few days ago, so we are all set. This stay-at-home event has given me another excuse to go back into the archives, this time to see what my new software skills can do for some old friends as well as shots that have always seemed to defy my efforts at improvement. These five images are the result of those efforts which I conducted yesterday.
A short rant before we start. In my younger days I certainly did some things that I can only characterize as pretty stupid, so I am willing to be a little understanding of people who should know better. Yesterday on Instagram I saw yet another series of photos of frozen Columbia Gorge waterfalls labeled "I went there so you don't have to." I hope that was in the spirit of idiot prevention, but I'm afraid it wasn't. If you want to be a combat photographer, go for it. But if you are a landscape photographer, I'm sorry but there is no excuse for putting your live in jeopardy to get yet another image of a place under conditions that label you an idiot for having gone out there. It's one thing to walk through Manhattan in the snow, as long as you are dressed for it - it is another to brave deadly road conditions on a closed Interstate 84 driving past jackknifed big rigs to get a shot we all can find on Google. Please grow up. Rant over.
THE WAY THE CAMERA CAPTURED IT
I took this photo about a decade ago of a new tower in the Pearl District whose shape and reflections intrigued me while I walking around the neighborhood. Yesterday I used some new software techniques to get the shot I really wanted. I know you don't really believe that this was a color photograph, but remember that this is Portland, so that the thin sliver of sky in the upper left corner, as well as all of the sky reflected in the glass facade is at best an anemic gray. The tan concrete panels are best left out of our discussion despite having gotten past someone in the architecture office. After a decade of fiddling with color controls, I finally just converted to black and white. After a minor crop and some straightening to satisfy my OCD, I took advantage of the lack of color to create a lighter, high-image that showed off the new white reflections in the facade. Lightroom's new "Dehaze" filter, which adds contrast and detail in the background better than clarity or sharpening, really brought out the detail in the facade, especially after I had raised the exposure by half a stop. These kind of manipulations would be pretty unsightly in the color version, but work well in black and white. I believe that the result is a lot closer to what I saw ten years ago than what my camera caught that day - a very graphic assemblage of lines and reflections that pleases me much more.
THE WAY I SAW IT
MASONRY CIRCLE IN THE SQUARE
Another collection of lines in the environment. This circle is an alcove in Portland's Pioneer courthouse Square, and it took such a dreary day to find it unoccupied. If you stand on the dot and whisper the brick amphitheater will broadcast your voice very clearly everyone dozens of feet away. My snapshot is clearly under-exposed, and the brickwork is pretty untidy.
SHEDDING SOME LIGHT ON A CLEANED-UP SUBJECT
Now that is more like it. I maintain my artistic credibility by keeping the circle off-center in my new square coaster crop. My raising the exposure has rejeuvenated the square and the clone tool has eliminated most of the discoloration and random litter on the site. I was not trying to take a photo of maintenance problems at the Square after all, but just an appreciation of the brickwork. I'm still a little troubled by my attempt ot eliminate the shadowy words on the dot through selective muddying and reverse "Dehazing", but improvements will probably have to wait for another round of software advances, or at least better technique from yours truly.
GLASS BLOCK WALL
This one has also defied my efforts for a decade. What I felt would surely be a wonderful rendition of a back-lit glass brick wall has always been a dull shot without meaning. Since the "color" was clearly not working, I converted to black and white, hoping that i could blacken the grout lines and also raise the exposure to lighten the block.
To a large degree that move was successful, but even I would have to admit that this won't make a good coaster. I'm just too close, and those bubbles in the glass block look more like graffiti. Time to pull back.
BACK TO THE WALL
The original composition, with some very judicious straightening, was clearly more successful. I still don't know to do with image beyond selling it to Pittsburgh Glass Block, but I never said I was a stellar businessman.
THIS IMAGE NEEDS HELP
This image is a lot more important to me. I've been here long enough that the Central Branch of the Library has now been closed for renovations for the second time in thirty years. It is one of my favorite places in Downtown, and I'm not alone. The crowds going through the front doors on any normal day were bested in Downtown only by Nordstrom's, and that's pretty good for a cultural institution. This is the corner of one of the skylights in the top public floor, and I always thought that it could be a great coaster - but I never could get the crop and the exposure I wanted.
A LIBRARY SKYLIGHT
Once again, I think what I feel is a success was achieved by a few subtle moves. As usual, the move to real black and white from just low saturation color was crucial. This allowed me to actually darken the mullions, while a "Turning on the Sun" by drastically raising the exposure to achieve white instead of gray in the sky. After years of struggle I finally realized that it was only necessary, even better, to only straighten one of the axis of mullions. This allows a stable, but dynamic composition of lines to surround the book cartoon that provides the whimsy.
DRINKING COFFEE IN THE SQUARE
Finally I return to an old friend, one of the few examples of "street photography" in my portfolio. I have never been comfortable approaching strangers on the street in order to include them in my cityscapes. I think the hardest five words in any language are "May I take your photograph?" So this example of what some call "Street for Introverts" is a testament to looking around Pioneer Courthouse Square, and in my wife's words, finding about every cliche in just one non-portrait. A pretty girl in casual clothes sitting idly in the Square enjoying her coffee. I didn't have the guts to say hello, so there you go.
DOCUMENTARY, OR JUST ANOTHER INTERPRETATION?
If I'm going to be a real street photographer, I'd better go black and white. While at least I didn't try a preset that would shoot this in Tri-X film, I do admit that it feels a little bit more authentic. The black and white version allows me to reduce the Starbucks logo, ignore the blue pants and take down the henna (although I am a sucker for henna). More importantly, black and white allows me to emphasize that incredibly nubby sweater with new "texture" filter, and to increase the sharpness of the background bricks with the "Dehaze" filter. Black and white allows for a subtle vignette that would also not work in the color version. I probably still like the color version better, but only because that the henna hair works with the red brick of the Square.
I hope my experiments might encourage you to try something new with old images, whether they are old friends or old headaches. You might be surprised.