Thursday, November 29, 2012

Harbor, Messina, Sicily

Our cruise ship docked at Messina, but we spent the day on an excursion to Taormina. I enjoyed Taormina, but didn't fall in love with it. I can tell how much I like a place by how many photographs I take. It's telling that my favorite photograph of the visit is of a beautiful sky as we leave port in the morning. July 2006, Nikon D50.

Hong Kong Layover

In July of 2011, I had a twenty-four hour layover in Hong Kong on my way back from Vietnam. Thanks to the remarkably efficient rail service from the airport, I was in my hotel an hour after landing. About four, I made my way to the Star Ferry for the trip across the harbor, and then up Victoria Peak via the tram. There was an hour wait at the bottom as the line crawled along, but I finally got up there and then scrambled for a place along the viewing area, which was packed with tourists. I had my tripod, but using it was out of the question because of all the people, as well as the awkwardness of getting it to fit above the railing. So, I settled for handheld using the Nikon D90 and the Tokina 11-16 wide angle. I was there about two hours and took a variety of shots as the sun slowly disappeared and the lights of the city began to make their mark on the composition. Coincidentally, a friend I had made on the Mekong Cruise from which I was returning was also on a layover and jostling for position on the summit as well. Small world, considering where we had been.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Billboard in Moscow, 2010

So why this picture? For one, just being in Moscow, albeit for 10 hours or so, was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. As a child of the Cold War and growing up reading John Le Carre, Ian Fleming, and numerous other accounts of spies, treachery, and double agents, this was a very cool day for me. When I told one of our guides, a woman over 60, that I appreciated the opportunity just to be here, she was surprised that her country had had such an emotional effect on me. I was infatuated with all things Russian, even down to the advertisements on billboards. I like this picture because it combines English and Russian words in an inexplicable way. Why any English at all? I also like the couple on the balcony just to the left of the sign, enjoying a warm Moscow afternoon. Taken with the Sony DSC-HX5V, my point-and-shoot of the moment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Havana Interiors

In order to get inside buildings in Old Havana, it is necessary to have an entree of some kind. For these photographs, I hired a pedi-cab in front of our hotel early on a Sunday morning for about $10 for over an hour's ride. In my poor Spanish, I told him I wanted to see architecture and he complied. Once he figured out I was looking for "crumbling," he knew where to go. We hired a total of three guides on this trip and all were well worth the modest expense. The bottom photo is the best example why. I would never walk into a place where people are living by myself with a camera.

Before and After

In Habana Vieja, the work never stops. Restoring the crumbling mansions that once stood in the great plazas of the city is a decades-long job. In Plaza Vieja, in particular, the work accomplished there since my first visit in 2003 (top photo) to the summer of 2012 (bottom) is astonishing. The acclaimed photographer from the National Geographic, David Alan Harvey, shot the same building from the same perspective in 1998, with the same woman on her balcony doing laundry.When I bought his book "Cuba" upon my return from there in 2003, I was surprised to see a number of the same people in his photographs as were in mine. Going back again in 2009 and 2012, I again saw some of the same characters both in Havana and Trinidad. Either it's a small world or these people aren't going anywhere for a while.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, Cambodia, 2011

In the environs of Siem Reap, Cambodia, there are numerous temple sites within an hour of each other. The most famous is Angkor Wat, pictured top. I had a great idea. Why not get up at 4:30, get a tuk-tuk out to the ruins, and get some shots before the crowds get there? Except, if you've been there, about 1500 other people have the same idea. This was a frustrating morning. To keep the people out of the pictures, I had to expose for the sky, throw the temple into silouette and then crop out the bottom. When we went back later after breakfast with our group and a guide, it was much better. The middle photograph is from Ta Prohm, also famous for its use as background in "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider." What a stinker! Ta Prohm is difficult to photograph because of the masses of people posing, one after another, in front of everything I was trying to shoot. not to mention the lack of any color but green and grey. Still, it was an amazing sight. I can't remember the name of the bottom site, but it was pouring rain and I only got a few shots here. The rain helped put a little color into the scene, though. Nikon D90 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tobacco Plantation, Vinales, Cuba

In the far Western part of Cuba is the town of Vinales in the province of Pinar del Rio. This region is noted for its tobacco growing, and Vinales is a pleasant little town, spruced up for tourists who used to drive straight through. We visited a working tobacco farm, saw a demonstration of rolling a cigar, and had a cup of strong coffee in the house on the property. The top photograph shows the family living there taking a mid-day rest. The middle photo is of a Guajiro, or Cuban peasant farmer, who gives the demonstarations. Bottom, the owner's pride and joy sitting in the driveway of his house. We drove back to the hotel , barely beating a torrential lightning, thunder, and rain storm. We sat and drank mojitos in the hotel bar and waited out the deluge. All photographs taken with the Sony NEX 7 and Tamron 18-200 lens.

Portraits at Tuol Sleng

The only thing these photographs have in common is that they were taken at the same location; the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the capitol of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. We were leaving the museum after a most sobering tour of Security Prison 21, used by the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot to house political prisoners before sending them to their deaths at any number of "Killing Fields." The middle picture says the most about what this place is about. A young monk has just emerged from a cell for prisoners in this former high school, no longer needed because schools were forbidden during the regime which lasted from 1975-1979. A sign above him says "no smiling or laughing" as if anyone needed reminding. The top and bottom show young children, far too young to understand what they are about to see as they enter with their parents. This was an emotionally grueling day as we had first visited one of the "Killing Fields" just outside the city limits. Certainly not an enjoyable experience, but I got an education in political and ideological horror.

Roman Holiday 2004

In 2004, my wife and I led not one, but two groups to Italy. Group one was a collection of family and friends. Group two was my high school baseball team and their mothers, for the most part, with a couple of fathers thrown in for balance. The previous summer, much of the same group of players had gone to Cuba, escorted mainly by dads, not a place perceived as woman-friendly, what with rum, cigars and who knows what else. Italy? Now that's another story. The top photograph taken from my hotel room in Rome. I got a glimpse of what a pigeon must feel like flying above potential targets. The bottom two shots were taken in a shockingly tourist-free Vatican Square. Well, I may have cheated a bit with the tourists. Photographic "rules" would tell you NOT to let people exit a frame like these nuns are doing. Give them some room in front of them to breathe. Hogwash! In the bottom photo, I asked my pitching coach, Chris Volta, to walk across the square. He was a good model. And yes, I know I cut off the top of the dome of Saint Peters. Now that's a rule I believe in. Middle photo, Pentax Optio S4, the other two taken with the Konica-Minolta A2.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Church on Mt. Pilatus, Switzerland

A film image from 1998. It seems like all it would take for this church to go plummeting over the edge is one heavy rain. The clouds opened up for about 15 seconds and then enclosed the church again, and it was time for our group to move on. For a number of years, my wife and I led groups of high school students on summer tours of Europe in the years before we could afford it ourselves. There certainly was an "If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium" sort of feel to these trips, but at least we got to see places we wanted to come back to and spend more time in, unaccompanied by needy teenagers.


While these photographs are not necessarily compositional masterpieces, they show an aspect of daily Cuban life that would frustrate those of us with easy access to phone service, the internet, and other technological marvels. No Cuban takes these things for granted. The bottom photo depicts Cubans standing in line to get minutes put on their cells at the main phone center in Old Havana on Obispo Street. A friend told me they don't need to wait in line to get the minutes, but that's what they're used to. All photos taken with the Sony NEX 5n. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bikes and a Brit

Three of these photographs are linked by a rather obvious theme. Bicycles and horses are the most common way for folks to get around Trinidad, far outnumbering cars. The streets are  rocky and cobblestoned so seeing Trinidadians repairing tires is a common sight. The bottom picture is of my good friend Nigel, the chap   who encouraged me to start a blog and then proceeded to get it up and running for me. He is incredibly generous with his time and expertise. Here, he is waiting on the corner for our wives to come out of a store. It's very hot and steamy, we've been out walking around for about 4 hours, and we (I mean Nigel and I) want to get back to the hotel. Good luck with that! All photos taken with the Sony NEX 7.

Bob Marley, David Bowie, and Neil Young

Bob Marley and David Bowie are not my favorite musicians, but back in the 70's, I wanted to see everyone and, for the most part, I did. Neil Young was, and still is, one of my "must sees," and he's still going strong. The Marley picture was taken at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1976. One could simple leave one's seat and stroll up to the stage and fire away for a while. He was a mesmerizing performer, but reggae gets old for me real fast. Bowie's show at the cavernous Cow Palace in 1976 was the only time I saw him live. I remember clearly being stunned at the lighting, the sound system,  the fantastic band, and the man himself who seemed to reinvent himself every year. I think this was his "Thin White Duke" phase, but I could be wrong. Neil Young played an extended run at the Boarding House in San Francisco in 1978, and I got a table just to the right of the stage. He was riveting, as usual. I took these pictures with the Nikon FM and used color slide film pushed processed to 400 ASA.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Reflections #2

Top photograph, Venice in 2005 outside our hotel at the gondola "parking lot." Bottom, Rovinj, Croatia in 2008. Nikon D300.

Oia, Santorini

I suppose this post could also be titled "Ode on a Grecian Urn" but that might be a little too poetic. All three shots from 2005 on the magically photogenic island of Santorini, a 30 minute flight south of Athens. Santorini is basically an island formed from a volcano, with many of the small towns perched on the caldera. The bottom photograph reflects my continuing fetish with laundry in foreign places. I wish I owned a better camera at the time, but no point whining now. These were taken with the Konica-Minolta A2 with the built in 28-200 lens.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Alaska and Hawaii in Black and White

The top picture was taken at 11:00 at night outside Anchorage, Alaska, near Big Lake in 2007. This is about a half hour ride from Sara Palin's place though we didn't stop by for a visit. We had just finished water-skiing and were getting warm when I saw the clouds. I only had my Panasonic DMC LX1, but what's the best camera? The one you have with you. I love Alaska! However, I love Hawaii more. This is on the Big Island on the Kona Coast. A total cliche, to be sure, but I like it anyhow. Rule of thirds with the sky and the water. Sun and tree nicely placed. An odd number of people in the silhouette. I read somewhere that an odd number of people is more pleasing than an even number. I don't know why, but I agree. The top picture is more evenly split between the sky and the lake, but if I had gone higher with the composition, I would have lost the flowers on the left side. Nikon D90, 18-200 Nikkor at 100 iso, 2008.

The Louvre in Winter

This was taken from the balcony of our hotel, the Bristol, on New Year's Eve in 2007. Nikon D80 with an 18-200 Nikkor zoom.

More Dominoes in Havana

One of my quests during my second and third trips to Cuba was to try and figure out how this place operated. As I found out rather quickly, it will take a lot more than three and a half weeks to get any kind of handle on the day-to-day struggles the average Cuban faces. Once I realized I would get no closer to understanding much of anything, I at least wanted to see Cubans doing daily life kinds of things. Getting access to the inside of peoples' homes is not easy. Would you want a tourist with a camera in your living room? Although I got into the home above, I wasn't comfortable being there, even escorted by another Cuban man. They also wanted money to take pictures; a double-whammy of ethical dilemmas. The bottom photo was easier, taken in the foyer of a crumbling mansion that houses many families. The staircase leads to the famous paladar, La Guarida, and we were waiting to go upstairs for dinner when I saw this group playing dominoes under the staircase. They were even friendly. That sounds very condescending. Almost every single person we met in Cuba over three trips was wonderful; curious about the USA and hopeful we can get the stupid embargo lifted.

Airports and Airplanes

While I really dislike flying (in coach), I often find something interesting to do while waiting for a flight. The top photo is Hong Kong Airport, and I had a three hour wait before my flight to San Francisco. This is one of the coolest airports I have seen. Great shops, restaurants, and interesting architecture. Second down is the Bangkok Airport. Ultra-modern, nice amenities for the traveler, and neat to look at. Third is during a layover in Denver en route to London.The stormy skies helped out by a judicious touch of Topaz Adjust Spicify. The top three taken with the Nikon D300. Bottom, Siem Reap, Cambodia, on our way to Hanoi. More great sky, taken with a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Italy in Black and White

These are the first black and white photos I've posted. When I got the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in, I thought I'd have a go at converting some files. All three of these are from Venice in 2004. The top reflection in Saint Mark's Square was taken with the Pentax Optio 4, a tiny camera that literally fits into an Altoids tin. We were on our way to dinner when my friend Dudley said, "Look down." so I did. The middle picture is also of Saint Mark's Square taken from the campanile in the morning. The bottom photograph is of the Venice lagoon with awesome clouds looming over the area.