Freeze Frame

At photo and video trade shows, it’s not uncommon to find booths set up with elaborate, colorful, sometimes mechanically active displays with which guest can demo cameras and lenses. Sometimes, live action vignettes play out with creatively-clad models, though these are more often for posing demonstrations.

These fantastical displays are something like the creations of Joan Steiner, whose dioramas are filled with eye candy (and sometimes real candy) including every day objects, such as like gloves, toothbrushes, combs, clothespins or mustard bottles and even crackers and other snacks.

My wife, Jen, and I were lucky enough to stumble across 10 or so of Steiner’s 3D creations on a recent visit to the Albany Institute of History and Art for Rock and Roll Legends, (on display through Feb. 12, by they way). Steiner’s work is not currently on display.

Sometimes during a lull I like to flex my photographic muscles with an exercise inspired by those trade show exhibits. I’m too far from Macy’s windows on 34th Street, and it isn’t always Christmas, so I go in search of subject-rich environments that will offer diverse subject matter.

Recently, I combined this pursuit of subject matter with a visit to an annual festival in East Meredith, NY that I’ve mentioned in past writing for the Catskill Mountain Region Guide – but never visited in person.

dscf1559_wmThe Hanford Mills Museum Ice Harvest Festival has got to be one of the most charming “olde-time events” you will ever stumble across. Next year’s date has already been announced. (It’s always the first Saturday in February, apparently)

With on going blacksmiths demonstrations, horse-drawn carriage rides, cooking demonstrations and an interactive actual ice harvest the event is billed as “The Region’s Coolest Tradition.”

That said, even with the time spent waiting in line for my shot at carving a block of ice from the pond (and more time in another line for an aborted try at supporting the soup fundraiser) I think I was there for all of an hour.

I did find some texture, for my collection and a few contrasting displays of chaos

and order. Perhaps a subject for a future post.

Honestly, I may have just been cold! Even dressed for standing around on the snow and ice, my shooting fingers got a tad stiff. Also the barrage of shades of white and grey, and all that reflected sunshine combined with and dark building interiors just tired me out. Still – brought back what I think are some interesting images, and I’m sharing a few of those with you here.

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Some of you may be familiar with a website, or type of website offering ‘instructables,’ which tend to be photo-heavy how-to guides.

If you think Youtube is a time sink, try looking at what some folks make and share there! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Being a sort of business fanatic (I love studying how various enterprises work, and breaking down the component parts in the interest of optimization) I’d like to shoot more how-to videos and photo essays. Most instructructables, alas, are shot by their creators. But I have done a bit of low budget commercial video which you can find on the Ment Media Group. YouTube Channel (subscribe, while you’re there!)

Basically, I’m drawn to process – so seeing how the ice was cut, conveyed, and stacked for storage in the Hanford Mills Museum ice house – so that folks in the pre-electric refrigeration era could enjoy “fresh” food during warmer non-winter months was simply put – fun.

There were also several vintage how-to movies that documented past commercial harvests showing inside a frigid barn. This was big business once upon a time. Today, I suppose it’s pure nostalgia.

 

Side note on Steiner’s Look-Alike work. At the time, we mistakenly thought we looking at I-Spy creations. More on that here:

Steiner’s work has been compared, or cast in the same light as that of I-Spy creator Jean Marzollo, though I prefer Steiner. If this is all somehow meaningless to you, read more about I Spy in Marzollo’s remarks from a symposium on Margaret Wise Brown here or about her photographer Walter Wick here.

BUT what does all this have to do with the price of nutmeg in New Jersey? Nuttin!

 

Capturing my Imagination

 

Five Rivers is a parcel of 450 acres managed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

After years of driving past the place, always a little curious (not too curious) some months ago my wife and I finally took the side road that leads there and spent a while getting acquainted with the center dscf1470_wm.

Last week, though the temperature hovered near 30, I returned with a camera in search of inspiration.

If you believe, as I do, that the ‘devil is in the details,’ than no matter how cold and grey, snow and ice covered, or bleak a natural setting may appear, there’s always something there – the closer you look.

On this walk, with a dreary light reflected off so much whiteness I was forced to stare down at to maintain my footing, my eyes grew tired quickly (sacrifice for my art!) and I found myself looking for patches of darkness to relieve them. I found those in the trees, and brush

Note: If you find yourself here on an icy afternoon – the facility has cramponsdscf1472_wm to offer some surefootedness, but did I take them up on it? Perish …!

As I walked around the lake (manmade, I believe) things began to present themselves to me.

Almost immediately, there’s a bench sheltered from the storm. I immediately named the photo “Rest” although no rest would be required on this short outing – and it was certainly too soon upon just setting out.

dscf1496_wmShortly I arrived at this rusted relic, which I felt had a floral quality in its handle design. It was also growing like sort a flower out of the bank of the lake. I imagine it was part of some old waterworks there though its haphazard state of de-installation suggests it’s no longer in use.

I was struck by the bark on several trees at Five Rivers, perhaps because it was the closest thing to color I came up this chilly afternoon.

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dscf1522_wm Perhaps because as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (LINK) I’m always looking for texture.

I also spotted a stump, which was weathering nicely.

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dscf1502_wmThese needles also did it for me. Can’t tell you why.

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Approaching this particularly treacherous walkway (Just as bridges and overpasses freeze first and harder than the surrounding road surfaces, elevated wooden decks are potentially more hazardous than the dirt and gravel paths they connect) I was struck with a surfeit of paths..

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Just as I would walk over the elevated path, aquatic life might travel the waterway below, as small mammals might opt for the log crossing. Just a thought.
And while my icy path provided the opportunity for a hardier freeze, it also permitted me to travel through the undisturbed rustling of the dried winter grasses and weeds. It was here that I took my favorite photo of the trip

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Here’s where my walk got really interesting.

Focused on the minutia, I wasn’t paying much attention to my broader surroundings. And … wait for it, walking around a small man-made lake possibly with several foot bridges intersecting it, I found myself slightly turned around (if it was darker, and I was a drinking man, I’d say o.k. I was ‘lost’)

Just in the nick, I spotted this.dscf1526_wmand Although the direction it was pointing in was vague, I took an overgrown path up and eventually found my way back to my car stopping only to study this sundial and wonder, as I often do when faced with acts of unnecessary cruelty and random bits of vandalism …

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Why?

INSPIRATION

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If you’re anywhere near the Capitol District in NY and might appreciate stellar photos of many of rock and roll’s greatest talents get to the Albany Institute of History & Art before Feb. 12, 2017.

Photographers don’t exist in a vacuum. At least they shouldn’t.

If you’re photographing weddings, well you’d better look at the work of other photographers. You probably already do, for some combination of education, marketing, and inspiration. When I do, I sometimes notice creative poses, beautiful lighting ideas, or simply shots worth admiring – the sorts I work to get and keep my eyes open for.

If you’re photographing buildings or landscapes – the same applies. I enjoy looking at other photographers’ work because I enjoy what these subject look like on the page – not just my own.

Some of the earliest I recall admiring were in books of photographs of ‘old New York” that captured the light and shadow of industry and architecture at places like Grand Central Terminal

Instagram is a platform I guess is well-suited for this, though I’m not much of a user. Some folks probably use Pinterest the same way.

For me its often the social post and blogs of other photographers I turn to for inspiration particularly Fine Art Photographer Leanne Cole, in Australia, a true inspiration whose tastes seem to run much like my own from architecture to abandoned spaces to nature, landscapes – and of course portraiture.

Last week I read a piece called ‘The Dark Art of Concert Photography” by Sarah Arnold on the SmugMug site. (SmugMug is a gallery and ecommerce site for photographers. I use it mainly for weddings portrait shoots at jonathanment.com)

Republished from August 2016, it’s a sort of instructional for aspiring live music shooters.

Having spent many a hot and sweaty night during the years I actively published the Urban Rag Zine either in the photographer’s pit or pressed against the barricades when there was none, I read it with some – albeit – nostalgic interest.

I would have to cull through a lot of years of photos, from negatives through the digital archives to find anything worthy of blowing up to poster size. This is not the case however for Patrick Harbron, whose “Rock & Roll Icons” exhibit hangs in Albany for two more weeks.

Whether its his shots of Ray Charles, for which Harbron wishes he could remember what he said to make the icon laugh, an extensive display of a young Bruce Springsteen, coverage of the Rolling Stones, KISS, ACDC, The Police, Bob Marley, John Mellencamp, or Deborah Harry (pictured in the ad for the exhibit) he really seems to have captured everyone active beginning in the late 1970s (Particularly if they toured through Toronto).

For music fans unsure about a spending time with a collection of photos, understand that these are simply beautiful to look at. You can hear the music in some of them. There also a soundtrack of rock playing in the background a few guitars from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and other items on display to lure you out

For photographers, there’s even a bit on the craft, from lenses to lighting and even Harbron’s old camera ‘bag,’ a nearly indestructible roller-skate box his caption explained could double as a sort of short step stool.

There’s also a bit of backstage insight, like references to Van Halen’s contract for photographers – retaining rights for the band “forever and until the end of time …” throughout the entire universe,” Harbron said he never signed it.

Mixed among the admirable insight is a fair amount of music history and career context surrounding some of the photos. Just what I’d expect in a setting such as an institute of history and art!

No doubt we’ve all seen some of Harbron’s work already, in print or on album covers, but not like this.

Many images can be viewed at the rock and roll icons link above, but it’s simply not the same as the large exquisite prints you’ll find in Albany – or wherever this exhibit might visit in its next incarnation.

I escaped completely into this exhibit – and maybe, even got a little inspired.

 

 

 

I operate the Ment Media Group. You can also like Jonathan Ment Photography on Facebook, subscribe to the photography blog and follow on Twitter

 

Talking about Texture

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I probably date myself in this post – so read it and share it quickly, before I come to my senses and delete it.

 

My interest in texture began  during the early years publishing an indie-music ‘fanzine’ “(the) Urban Rag.

Clarification needed, I believe. The texture I’m referring to here as two-dimensional would I feel be more accurately be called a ‘pattern,’ whether repeating or random. However I believe over the past 30 years convention has redefined texture in relation to photos and more specifically Photoshop.

Here’s an excellent explanation from a site called SFGATE.

 

“Texture and pattern are terms that describe various decorative elements, such as upholstery fabrics, curtains, walls and even types of tile. While it may be difficult to tell which is which from afar, hands-on access clues you in right away. A pattern is a visual element that repeats, such as plaid or stripes, whereas texture can be felt, such as the surface of a brick or a piece of burlap. … Texture can be seen as well as felt; it has some level of dimension to it.

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The Zine “Urban Rag,” was named through a mashup (before mashups existed) of “Urban Blight,” a band active at the time and who’s set list was hanging from a speaker in my home – and Rag, common derogatory slang for a newspaper. I didn’t know at the time I’d later work for a string of sub-urban newspapers – but I’ll save that for another time

With humble apologies, I admit the website is about as lame and primitive as you’ll ever see – but it is a time-capsule.

The Urban Rag was initially assembled in my pre-Desktop Publishing days meaning there was variably wax, or glue and glue sticks and bits of paper and cut out headlines and printed images – basically the layout was a collage. (Credit due to a contemporary zine called “Crashing Waves.” Who’s ‘digest’ size and general approach I emulated.)

We also used these sheets of transferrable letters that had various fonts and sizes that you rubbed on to the sheet you were creating – sort of high-tech ransom note approach. These rub on letters and symbols are still available, or available again, but I moved away from them as the process grew more computerized.

By the end of the process, the master – from which we made copies for circulation/distribution truly had texture. Parts it were thick with layers, had uneven edges and were made up of different materials. But the end result was flat, two-dimensional and for many years reduced to black and white or shades of grey on colored stock

My partner in this venture, Gary, had access to a copy machine (like so many zine publishers) and the early issues were photocopied in a (church) office after hours. We looked for creative backgrounds on which to layout each page. I’m sure it was he who came up with this first.

We’d take two and three-dimensional items and objects, photocopy them, then layout the reviews on the photocopies.

We used remnants of wrapping paper, seconds of screen from a window, the dimpled lens from a drop ceiling light figure – you name it.

In 2013 ago I posted a series of photos from a bridge construction project. These stand on their own as part of that digital exhibit, but the purpose for many of the photos was to collect textures for use in Photoshop.

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These shots and others are part of my texture bank. They’re on the shelf if and in case I need them for some future photo (or publishing) project or exercise.

Much in the way things change as you look at them more closely – new details emerge, this texture bank offers a wide range of possibilities. In the photo copying days this was achieved through enlarging or reducing what we were copying. Computers have made this a bit easier to be sure – though less ‘organic.’

tex4If you take photos for fun, pleasure (or even profit) and think creative/artistic editing is in your future (with scissors or Photoshop) If you’re not already doing it – I encourage you to begin capturing and collecting these sorts of images for your texture bank – or savings account.

 

~ Jonathan

 

 

 

 

I operate the Ment Media Group. You can subscribe to the photography blog and follow on Twitter

Selfi(sh) Sticks

I don’t like selfie sticks.

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I maintain selfie sticks are a scourge. They’re dangerous and distracting in crowds, as well as being downright ridiculous to watch in use. Coast to coast, many amusement parks most museums and arenas like the LA Coliseum and Madison Square Garden have already moved to ban them.

 

My wife and I have been taking selfportraits, or more accurately self-two-shots, for about as long as we’ve been together. Often that’s meant propping a camera (or in recent years sometimes a phone) on a rock, or hat, or railing, and setting the timer. (These timers have existed on cameras for at least half a century that I’m aware of).

 

I’m not sure if I’ve ever asked a passerby to take our photo, and I’m certain no one has ever offered. Perhaps it’s that sense of confidence and known smiles we exude when capturing a moment. Perhaps not.

 

However, for some reason, I’ve long found pleasure in helping folks take that photo in front of a scenic vista or landmark.

 

Perhaps it’s my trustworthy face, or perhaps I just give off that photographer vibe, but, for many years I felt I was being singled out to take the photo. It got to the point I occasionally volunteered when I saw one member of a group was obliged to take the picture of the rest.  My actions were sincerely appreciated. I felt I’d touched others with a random act of kindness (and a well-composed photo).

 

But I’m aware that’s it’s happened less over the past year. Perhaps I need to get out more, or perhaps the opportunities are diminishing as more and more folks can be seen dueling with invisible foes, their phones extended on one of these goofy monopods.

 

In 2013, Apple declared “Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera.” Though the video has been erased from Youtube, the stats back up their claim.

 

I recall the company’s billboard alongside the promenade on my approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Couldn’t find an image to share on line, but on a whim – discovered Apple sells a $50 selfie stick that includes a tripod feature. Ugh.

 

I’ve noticed the collapsible sticks have found their way into reality TV with the same dopes vying for fame and prizes required to document their insecurities and isolation by serving as their own camera operator.

 

Further blurring the lines between photographer and subject as I gather some news organizations are skipping the assignment of a videographer and assigning a selfie stick instead.

 

There’s a joke in there somewhere, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

 

And sure I’ve seen selfie sticks at weddings, but fortunately – not yet in the hands of a clergyman. This writer for the Knot.com at least urges folks to be respectful of the photographer, but I figure it’s only a matter of time before booze and selfie sticks combine to make the professional’s job more difficult. Hope I don’t run into them anytime soon in my capacity as a Hunter wedding photographer.

 

Though… with a number of officiants already presiding over ceremonies at their own for-profit facilities with an interest in the catering and homegrown floral arrangements, will it be too long? If it’s this year, you probably heard it here first.

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Will a future generation of Shopping Mall Santas wear a coin changer on their big black belt and carry a selfie stick accosting children in the common areas or outside on the street – as the traditional model of a shopping mall (and shopping mall Santas) struggle for relevance?

 

I remember visiting Niagara Falls in 2015 and shaking my head at all the selfie sticks on display. They made it that much harder for me to take my own shots of the falls – each selfie-sticker effectively taking up that much more space than without.

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The author and wife, some years ago at Niagara Falls. Sorta.

This shot could have been taken with a selfie-stick, but alas I DON’T OWN ONE. Of course, it wasn’t even taken with the Falls for a background. Instead, it was taken on an assembly line in front of a green screen – prior to (if memory serves) Jennifer and I boarding a ferry that took us into the mist.

I’m sure these things aren’t going away, in fact I’m certain they’ll become more pervasive. But I don’t have to like it.

Tacky.

I simply don’t like selfie sticks, though I admit these folks may take their feelings a bit too far with pruning shears (if it’s not a gag). The comments, on that link are worth a skim as well.

While researching this story, I did find these ridiculous sticks could be good for a laugh, when I happened on upon this site featuring movie stills (such as the one at the top of this post) in which the guns have been replaced with selfie sticks – and with some overlap this one.

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I also found this sign prohibiting their use at the Brisbane Museum on Wikipedia which made me want to get a sign of my own.

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Photo by Kerry Raymond.

 

 

Jonathan Ment is a writer, photographer, philosopher and consultant. Follow him on Twitter and share your thoughts on this story here.

Getting the Shot: Part 2 No Two Snowflakes Are Alike

dscf1211_wmWith the election season behind us, thankfully, and only the uncertain future ahead many folks it seems have returned to talking about the weather. It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s raining. It’s not.

Political memes have given way to shots of snow covered back yards and decks, and it’s these shots that make me laugh.

It’s as though everyone is telling everyone else – look, it snowed. The proof is in the photo.

dscf1215_wmSo many of these shots include the snow-covered barbecue, patio table or deck rail.

Perhaps is unconscious.

Cabin fever expressed through a visual declaration of external in-hospitability?

“Look, there’s my deck. I could probably go out there, but I’d have to shovel.”

Perhaps, and more likely, it’s merely the slipper-clad-coffee-cup-wielding-cell phone-camera-clutching masses keeping warm and dry while commiserating.

Christmas wasn’t white, except on the ski slopes in our part of the Catskills. (Nor Chanukah!) My snow tires are barely getting a workout … so far … knock on wood … dare I mention it … glad I’m not superstitious … jinx buy me a — Pepsi! (Got ya!) But we have had a fair bit of winter precipitation of late. Flurries, what seems like most days, a few all-out snowstorms with measurable inches.

dscf1168_wmBut course nothing can save the snow from the repeated temperate afternoons, leaving most roads thankfully clear and snow lumps in a sad shrunken state.

The change comes quick. From winter wonderland wow to mud covered cleanup mode. Getting the shot means getting out there as soon as you know it might be waiting.

Now, I will confess to liking my Acorn slippers so much that they’re fairly worn out and due for replacement. And – I’ve taken my share of shots from the safety of the porch. But sometimes – the boots must go on.

Like after an ice storm, when every twig glistens within it’s shroud of frozen precipitation, I always admire the scenery when the snow clings just so. Rarely, however to I take off the lens cap and capture it.dscf1177_wm

Here are a few shots I did venture out for, earlier in this early part of winter.

Some I’ve taken before, meaning I’ve shot the same subject over and over before like a waterfall waiting for the shot.

Others are new to me-principally, such as the snow-covered branches for which I rarely get out in time to photograph.

There’s a narrow window of opportunity for these sorts of photos. Too early, and the snow is still flying. Too late and it’s melted away.