Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Photographing Key West

It happened that my wife and I were downtown and we drove past the county courthouse and I thought to myself that would be a good spot to start an early morning walk. So that's what I did, I parked in their  ample parking lot and  got going. But first...
...I got my camera out. There aren't enough brick buildings in Key West so when I get to see light and shadow I tend to stand there and enjoy it.  
 Rusty had his nose down while I had mine up. I never use a tripod so hand held shots require a certain finesse in the dark. Finesse maybe, but in camera and in lens stabilization helps a lot too! Modern digital technology is astonishing. I try taking pictures that should not really come out at all, and sometimes, as we shall see, I get a decent enough representation that I post it here so I can remember the moment.
 Since I was laid up in the hospital, a period that had me reflecting pretty hard about the years remaining to me, I decided photography would be an important part of recording the remainder of my life, partly as a record and partly to spur me to live a life worth recording through a  lense. I started several months ago coming to grips with what modern photography means. It turns out photography is a series of angry people on various mediums and in various forums telling everyone else what to do. Oddly enough that is pretty much a representation of life on line these days it seems. So I sifted and thought, searched and found.
There is a huge group of people who want to do more than take selfies with phones  and there is a small group of professional photographers who wield huge cameras (Digital Single Lense Reflex cameras) and these groups argue about the value of equipment and the meaning of composition and the number of megapixels you need and the length of the lense and the background noise caused by high ISO ("eye-SO"). I decided to go back and look at classic photographers and they showed me the way, simple equipment and stories well told frequently in black and white.
I use black and white at night for effect as the white balance changes all he time with the different kinds of light sources and grainy night pictures in black and white aren't as glaring as color shots. Plus I'm walking a dog, not standing in contemplation of my subject so right there I'm a rank amateur compared to the loud voices on the photography forums. I take a picture, I check it out as seems obvious when I have an instant digital representation and with a tug of the leash I get after Rusty who is ready to hurry ahead. Checking pictures in camera after you've taken them is known as "chimping" among the nattering classes who obviously can't remember what a pain it was taking an expensive film picture and having to wait to see what you got. Nowadays I check right away and make corrections for another go there and then. Obvious and simple.
I do use a few editing tools, in the phone on Google Photos where I store my pictures and I have a couple of apps, Snapseed by Google and Touch-ReTouch out of eastern Europe somewhere. I have been trying to overcome my squeamishness about messing with what the camera sees but it seems editing is part of the digital process and I am not a journalist or anything more than a rank amateur so I take out overhead wires often, or I will crop and delete the excessive number of trash cans left on city streets.
                                         
Years ago when I was a radio reporter in Santa Cruz, California, I got in the habit of recording my interviews on a portable cassette recorder designed for the job. I went to interviews with it slung over my shoulder with a microphone in hand and every time I heard a good quotation I popped the cassette out and put in a  fresh tape. That made it easy to recover the half dozen or so quotations I needed and the story pretty much wrote itself by the time I got back to the newsroom typewriter. I was fast and I met deadlines. I find myself doing the same thing with a camera. I take pictures, I line them up on the page and I write to them. This bench struck me when I saw it, but as you can see at 5 in the morning it needed a tripod or a steady balancing act on a nearby object, something Rusty was too busy to allow and these are his walks. Yet I like the picture, the artificial shade from the tree behind the Kino sandal factory on Lang Miliam Lane. I can imagine sandal makers taking their breaks right here. I took as dark a picture as I dared and lightened it up and sharpened it in Snapseed and this was as good as I could get it. Perhaps I should have left it out...
Walking back down the alley toward Southard Street I was struck by the huge head staring out onto the street from an art gallery filled with turquoise color. In black and white the effect was not there so I switched my FZ1000 to one of the color modes and took a couple of pictures. Amazon sells he camera for 600 bucks and I got mine lightly used on eBay for $350. It's an older model with a fixed lense but it is packed with features and above all is easy to connect to my phone to download pictures directly to the iPhone and to Google pictures. Like my radio days of my youth, my photography is  rapid, cheap and cheerful. A bridge camera or super-zoom with a fixed lense is not really the thing in the world of detachable lenses. A world where I'd have to spend at least two grand to get lenses for a Micro Four Thirds camera what the FZ1000 gives me in a  single package. It does use up batteries but I have three in my bag so I just charge them in rotation and keep taking pictures.
I am not a huge fan of photographing people, and if I say this I don't mean it as a criticism but I don't see a huge number of interesting people on the streets of Key West. In the tourist areas you get the tourist get up and the blank stares of people taking in stuff they've never seen before. The number of bona fide eccentrics left in Key West seems to have been crushed by the influx of mainstream humanity from Up North.I myself don't qualify as anyone you'd think would be worth photographing though in my own defense I am not keen to tell other people how to live. The constant outrage about every little act of non conformity in Key West has worn me down over the years. Ban this, ban that, regulate and limit just about everything is the mantra. Consequently if you ave a tendency to stick out you will get mown down. Art, eccentricity, and a personal vision of the world cannot flourish in a climate of disapproval combined with a ridiculous cost of living. 
Besides that refrain the world of photography has become a tool for outrage in itself.  The use of the phone camera to humiliate and hold up for disapproval has made the notion of public photography a negative activity.   I seek irony and contrast on the streets, I seek geometry and shapes and colors or shades, but people don't attract my eye.
This one below, I took principally not because he is not identifiable (he's not) but because he is lying right next to the Sons of Anarchy poster. Passing out in a Duval Street doorway is as powerful an act of anarchy as any you can dream up these days in button down Key West. I salute his temerity.
 It's tempting sometimes to feel sorry for yourself and your environment.  I look around and see: no seasons, no mountains, no rivers, no variety when I'm having a bad creative day.  Of course when looked at from another point of view I'm lucky to live in an endless summer etc...etc... But there is no chance for me to see a changing leaf color or a snow drift or even a bank of fog or a river valley. I live on a narrow strip of land with a mangrove monoculture and turquoise waters and uninteresting architecture outside Old Town. And yet, here I am after twelve years still taking pictures. 
I watched a YouTube video discussing the notion of someone making and selling a simpler camera with fewer settings  and of course the questioner, an English photo instructor Mike Browne, elicited lots of support from passers by for a camera with fewer buttons. No I said, no. I want all the choices and I want to choose which modes I want and which I don't and which I'll try now and which I'll try later when the mood takes me.I want choice in my camera because I have no choice in my locations. And not many in my subjects. I may have to try to learn how to photograph people here pretty soon. I can't keep using chickens or Rusty as stand ins.
The two photographs above I took on Bahama Street, the first was supposed to feature a non cooperative chicken and the second a skateboarder who beat me  into fuzziness as I struggled to hold the camera and the dog at the same time. Below I wanted to caption this picture as a question. What do you think the sign said? (And it wasn't Welcome.)"
This picture below came to mind as Rusty and I advanced down Bahama Street toward Eaton and Rusty took a turn into the parking lot at St Paul's so I got this less than usual shot of the big white cathedral on Duval Street. I brightened it up a little on Snapseed to try to highlight the tiny tips at the top of the steeple. It sort of works I suppose but the black sky sets it all off nicely, except....the black vee draws your eyes down to the presbytery on the left. Whoops...Not very successful.
I sent this picture to a  friend who had doubted the previous day that I would show up for Broga at seven in the morning. So I sent him a picture of Rusty from my phone and said I'm up. How about you?  But as you can see I should have adjusted the white balance to make it look clean. Instead I left what Apple gave me to illustrate my earlier point.
On our way back to the car we passed the Tropic Cinema and I decided to take yet another picture of the place. This time a long shot showing off half the block. I like the look offsetting the cinema i the right third of the picture. This time the leading line of the black night leads directly to the theater side of the buildings.
There. Full disclosure on what I'm thinking about when I take the pictures documenting Key West -beyond the selfie brigades - ad how I muck about with the pictures. When the day comes that I no longer live and work here I want to be able to look back and see the town I knew no matter what ghastly direction the future offers. A Category Five Hurricane won't take these pictures away no matter the flooding. We'll always have the pictures.