Graffiti–Is it Art?

 

Waiting for a plane in Paris….

My journey to the Northwest Passage had a few preliminary steps required to actually reach the vessel on which we would make this expedition.  Step 1 was to fly to Paris where we would connect with the charter flight that would take us to Kangerlussuak, Greenland, where our ship would be docked.  This charter would be the sole opportunity to get there. To ensure we did not miss the connection, we scheduled our flight from Washington to arrive in Paris 3 days before the charter’s departure date.

Luckily, the first step was uneventful and so we had some extra time to explore one of our favorite cities.  Friends who are spending a month here this summer invited us to join them on a tour of street art in the 13th Arrondissement.  Perfect!  We knew next to nothing about street art and even less about the 13th Arrondissement.

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Our guide (center), the i-Tele camera man (left) and members of our group

For map buffs, our starting point was 29 Rue de la Butte aux Cailles.  After a pleasant lunch at Chez Nenesse (we had a lengthy chat with Clement Boyer, who bought the place about a year ago), we joined our guide Jean Christoph who was being interviewed by French television (i-Tele).  Apparently our group would be followed for a feature show on less well known tourist attractions.

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The above image has been spared by municipal cleaners who have been instructed by local authorities to paint around certain works.  But other graffiti-ists have left “tags,” one obnoxiously (the X-mark on the subject’s face) and one as a humorous response (the smiley face to the right.

First, we learned some terminology (apologies to Jean and others who know what they are talking about—I did not take notes).  Tagging, graffiti, and street art are different components of painting things on public spaces which is almost always illegal.  Tagging can be defined as a basic form of graffiti where the writer would sign his name or signature with the usage of spray paint.  While tagging is more of a representation of self, graffiti or street art is a painting or other medium that can be seen as an artistic expression (or at least an attempt at such), a graphic design, or socio-political commentary.

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The stenciled text is an example of graffiti as political commentary, this one in reaction to the recent terrorist events in France.

Since its origins in the 1980s and earlier, street art has become increasingly accepted in many places, especially in locations such as the 13th arrondissement of Paris. A number of street artists have become internationally known, such as American Shepard Fairey who is best known for his iconic “Hope” graphic image of Barrack Obama.  His story is summarized by Wikipedia.

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Commissioned works by two Street Artists (Shepard Fairey  with “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” at upper right and C 215 with the painting of the cat)

A French artist known as “invader” does not reveal his true name and who works with tile and grout rather than spray paint favored by the vast majority of street artists.  More about him can be found here.    His name is derived from the Atari video game “Space Invader” and his tile “invaders” can be found all over Europe and in a number of other countries. A map is on his websitehttp://www.space-invaders.com/home/

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There is much more, but I have a plane to catch.  This may be my last post for a month, but who knows?  In the meantime…..

Keep Shooting…..

 

 

Arctic Journey

 

In just a few days, I will be departing on a month-long journey that will take me into the Arctic Circle, along the west coast of Greenland, through the Northwest Passage, across the northern shores of Alaska, through the Bering Strait and ultimately to Nome, Alaska.  After being in Antarctica last year, it was inevitable that I would find my way to the northern Polar Regions.

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Google Satellite Image

This route was not really possible until recently because the Arctic Archipelago, through which we must pass, was choked year-round with sea ice.  But the steady rise in global temperatures has changed that situation as shown in this NASA video.   There are various routes through the Archipelago; our route will follow the track of the ill-fated John Franklin Expedition of 1846.  (See image below)  Anyone interested in the history of this epic search might check James P. Delgado’s definitive work, “Across the Top of the Word: The Quest for the Northwest Passage.”

Northwest Passage MAP Blog

Our Planned Route

(Note: The Mercator map projection above distorts the size of Greenland; it’s actual size equals about 28% of the continental USA)

Early exploration for a more direct route from Europe to the Orient began in the 16th Century, yet the first successful passage by boat was not achieved until 1906 and that trip, led by Roald Admundsen took 3 years.  It was another 36 years before the next successful effort, this time by Henry Larsen, and that also took three years.  In both cases, the expeditions were forced to spend the winter in the passage after being trapped by the sea ice.  The first commercial passenger ship to make it through was the M/S Explorer in 1984.  The Explorer’s journey was organized by Lars-Eric Lindblad, who had pioneered sea tourism in Antarctica on the same ship in 1969.

Aside from innumerable icebergs in various sizes and shapes, we will pass vast tundra plains, low lying bogs, sharply pitched arctic mountain ranges, and bituminous shale fires that have been burning for hundreds of years. We hope to capture images of all this as well as wildlife such as Narwhals, Beluga and Humpback whales, Polar Bears, Musk Oxen, Arctic Fox, and a variety of migrating birds.

As with last year’s Antarctica trip, the amount of photo gear one can take is limited by carry-on restrictions for the flight to the embarkation port (Kangerlussuak, Greenland).  The final leg has 5 kg limit (11 pounds) for carry-on and putting any of the essential items in checked baggage is never a good plan.  The duration of this trip is about 4 times longer (23 days from Kangerlussuak to Nome Alaska).  For one thing that means I’ll need more memory cards.  I also will be taking a tripod and a computer, two items that were not with me in Antarctica.  Those will be packed in my checked baggage along with a few other accessories.  Should they fail to make it to Kangerlussuak, it won’t be fatal.

It’s likely we will have little or no internet connectivity during this journey, so it may be a while before another post appears in this space or I am able to check on the posts of my fellow bloggers.  Until then…..

….Keep Shooting!

One Photo Focus-Augsut 2016

One the first Friday of each month, Stacy Fischer’s AfterBefore Friday Forum invites all participants to work their magic on the same image–an image that is selected by one of the participants in advance.  Hence the title of the event is “One Photo Focus.”  It happens that this month I am the one supplying the image and I can’t wait to see what creative license is taken with it by the other participants.  Their creations can be found at Visual Venturing and I hope everyone will check them out.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 Original Raw Version)

Original Raw Image — Unprocessed

The original image (above) was taken during a recent trip to London.  I’m sure everyone recognizes the iconic London Eye, a 443-foot-high Ferris wheel, erected in 1999.  The building to the right is London County Hall which served as the city of London’s seat of government through most of the 20th century.  It now houses a variety of tourist attractions and an upscale hotel. The photo was taken from the Westminster Bridge and, if one looked 90 degrees to the left one would see an even more iconic scene, the buildings of Parliament and the grand tower with the famous clock known as Big Ben.

I decided to take the straight approach this time and stayed away from my favorite sandbox, AKA the Filter Gallery.  I followed my normal workflow by using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to set the black and white points, increase the clarity and vibrance a bit, and then opened it in Photoshop.  Once in Photoshop, the tilt of the big wheel was annoying so a slight adjustment with the Transform function (Edit->Transform) was used to fix the problem. There was also a smudge-like apparition in the clouds left of the wheel’s center that needed removal. These adjustments are shown in the image below.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 Color Version)

Image after ACR and Basic Clean-up in Photoshop

Thinking what to do for One PhotoFocus, I thought he dark clouds seemed to be the most dramatic feature.  One possibility that seemed promising was to take advantage of those clouds in a black and white photograph.  This was accomplished with an Adjustment Layer (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Black and White.  The High Contrast Red Filter preset was used to further emphasize the clouds.Finally I used a mask and a curves adjustment layer to strengthen the contrast of the water and the right half of the building.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 BW Version)

Final Image

Thanks once again to Stacy Fischer for keeping our merry band of post processors on track.  Please visit her site at Visual Venturing to see the creative imaginations of the other participants.

Georgetown Sunset

 

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hop aboard one of the Potomac Riverkeeper boats and take a short evening cruise  up to the Georgetown waterfront.  As we dropped anchor near the Key Bridge, we were treated to a glorious sunset.

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Sunset, Key Bridge, Washington, DC

(Tech Data: Nikon D810 (handheld) with 28-300mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens extended to 45mm; 4 images photomerged, 1/60th sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800)

The Road to Rio

As everyone knows, it won’t be long before the 2016 Olympic Games begin.  Having attended three (the most recent in Sydney in 2000) I can say for certainty that the televised version is absolutely nothing like being there.  But even though we will miss them again this year (another destination calls), we managed to get a taste this week when we traveled to Pennsylvania to watch the USA Women’s Field Hockey Team play a test match against India, an opponent they will face again in Rio on August 11th.

While prime time TV features the “major” events and the big stars of gymnastics, swimming, and track & field, more inspiration can be found where the prime characteristics are effort, persistence, and dedication rather than fame, glory, and money.  For example, a story this spring in the Washngton Post  provides the background on a team  that few people know about.  Having finished last in the 2012 Olympics, the USA team has been on a roll since moving its training base from California to Pennsylvania.  After that story was published, the USA women won the bronze medal at the 2016 Champions Trophy Tournament in London.

Their training base near Lancaster, Pennsylvania is a relatively short drive from here and so on Monday, we drove up to see the USA-India match.  For those who are not familiar with the sport, it is somewhat like women’s lacrosse, except the ball is harder, less protective gear is worn, the game moves more quickly, the goal is much larger, and scoring is more difficult.

Here are some photos from the match (USA in red):

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USA on a Fast Break

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Winding Up for a Long Range Shot on Goal

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Maintaining control of the ball is far more difficult than in lacrosse.

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Attacking the Goal

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Field Hockey is big in Lancaster

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A Young Fan Cheers the USA Team

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Post-Game Congratulations (USA 3, India 2)

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Young Fans Storm the Field

The USA has two more test matches, a second one against India tonight and the third on July 26 against Canada.  Their first match in the Olympics will be on August 6th, against a tough opponent,  Argentina, ranked #2 in the world.

Sleeping Beauty

There is one building on the National Mall that has been closed to the public for a decade but, thanks to a renovation project launched in 2009, is now beginning to awaken.  It is the Arts and Industries Building next (east side) to the Smithsonian Castle.

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Arts and Industries Building, View from the Enid Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle

Background

It’s a large building (the roof covers 2.5 acres) and it has been here a long time.  Constructed in 1879-1881, it was the first building created solely to house the US National Museum. The National Museum’s collections had been housed in the Smithsonian Castle since the 1850s but soon outgrew the space.   Spencer Baird, Secretary of the Smithsonian at the time, devoted his entire career to developing a great National Museum at the Smithsonian and this building brought his dreams to reality. A detailed history of the building can be found here.

The structure was renovated in the 1970s for a special exhibition during the National Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.  Afterwards, it was used for a variety of temporary exhibits but its condition slowly deteriorated until it received the dubious distinction in 2006 of being named as one of America’s Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was closed soon afterwards.  Three years later, some of the funding needed for its restoration was made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Although the funding  was only about 30-40% of the total amount required, it was sufficient for a “shell restoration,” essentially restoring the exterior face, replacing the roof and windows (all 911), and stabilizing the structure.

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Undergoing rennovation

 

The above image is by G. Edward Johnson, courtesy Wikipedia and the source information can be found here.

When the exterior scaffolding was removed at the end of this phase, the results were quite impressive.

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Detail of Jefferson Street Entrance

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Exterior of the Central Rotunda, View from Independence Avenue

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Western Facade, View from across Independence Avenue

But funds are not available (so far) for an equivalent restoration of the interior and it is not open for the public.  However, the Smithsonian Associates recently held a special “open house” and I joined several hundred others to get a rare look at the interior.

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South Hall Looking Toward Independence Avenue

It was a festive event, with games, music, and food.  There was much interest in the presentations, especially the compelling  story of the restoration project as related by Construction Manager Pat Ponton (above).   Built in a time without air conditioning and before electrical lighting was practical,  the visionary design incorporated natural light and circulation, high ceilings and fireproof materials that foreshadowed modern construction techniques.

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Games for the Visitors

The black marble used in the geometric floors was quarried in Vermont and is characterized by a variety of fossils dating back 480 million years.  The same marble was also used in Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Much work remains but one can glimpse its former glory, especially when looking up at the dome above the central Rotunda.

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Dome over the Rotunda

According to Frederica Adelman, the Director of the Smithsonian Associates, the space is being made available for rent for private functions.  But lacking sufficient funding for the full restoration, final plans for the building’s ultimate purpose have not been made.

Tours are periodically offered by the Smithsonian Associates, so stay alert for future opportunities to get a peek.  In the meantime,

 

Keep Shooting….

 

Close to Home

 

Since I’m on the road today, this post combines the monthly One Friday Focus, sponsored by Stacy Fischer’s Visual Venturing Blog and a short piece inspired by a conversation last week with a fellow photographer.  Meanwhile, I’m off on another short trip this weekend, hopefully to capture a few images of the Milky Way over the Atlantic Ocean.  So once again, this post will serve double duty.

Last week Kim, a fellow photographer in the Great Falls Studios organization, described her specialty as photographing wildlife in her backyard.  Later, while reflecting on what she had been saying, I realized that I had been doing only a little of this over the years.  Other than a major effort on a pair of nesting bluebirds, I have not really concentrated on seeking subject matter just outside my windows.  Her stories made me think that perhaps I should look harder.  But for now, I decided to search through my files for some images that I already had taken to see what did happen to catch my eye.  The one rule: they had to have been taken from a spot within 100 feet of my house.   So, for what it is worth, here they are:

Kent June 2016 Solar Halo

Solar Halo

(Technical: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 18mm handheld; 1/1,000th sec. @ f/16, ISO 200)

Kent June 2016 Snow

Snow on Tree

(Technical: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 120mm handheld; 1/160th sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 200)

Kent June 2016 Magnolia

Magnolia

(Technical: Nikon D800E with 60mm f/2.8 Micro lens on tripod; 1/100th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400)

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Blue Heron Taking Flight

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm on tripod; 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 3200)

Kent June 2016 Butterfly

Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower

(Technical:  Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm handheld; 1/1250th sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 800)

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Female Bluebird Bringing Dinner

(Technical: Nikon D800E with 50mm f/1.8 lens; 1/2000th sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800)

This image was taken last month but is the same birdhouse used in my post a year ago.  I was planning a new approach this year.  Readers may recall that previously I had used a 200mm focal length lens on a camera inside the house and an off camera flash about six feet from the nest.  The flash was triggered by a wireless remote system (Pocket Wizard) but a single flash only provided a small amount of fill light.  This year, I planned to use Nikon’s wireless remote that would trip the camera’s shutter and place the camera about 10 feet from the nest.  I would be able to fire the shutter in continuous mode (not feasible with flash) while remaining inside the house. Unfortunately, I had only one day of shooting thanks to a sustained period of rainy weather.  But should the birds return next year, I may have better luck.

One Friday Focus

This month’s image was another interesting challenge, many thanks to David Croker for providing it.  As a reminder, the 1PF Challenge is sponsored by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and anyone can participate.  Details can be found at  Visual Venturing .

David’s original RAW image is shown below.  It offers a variety of possibilities and started as usual  by going through some standard steps of image prep (setting B&W points, highlights, shadows, etc. in Adobe Camera Raw).  Following this,  I opened the file in Photoshop and tried several approaches such as a straight black and white print which looked very nice, but I finally decided to go on a more radical direction.

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This usually means a foray into the Filter Gallery, which is fast becoming my “go-to” place for this monthly event.  Needless to say, I do not possess a single plug-in app so my choices are somewhat restricted, comparatively speaking.

But I digress.  The tool I picked is the so-called Glowing Edges under the “Stylize” Tab.  Although I have used this one before, it behaves quite unpredictably (at least for me) so the results can be quite different in each case.  There are three adjustment sliders to control the effects and the final settings were: Edge Width: 2;  Edge Brightness: 17; and Smoothness: 8.  It was starting to look pretty decent, but the lovely blue sky in the upper portion was now a black void and desperately needed help.  Rather than just crop it out, I used the clone tool to copy sections of the lower clouds.  This, of course, created a new problem–the newly created clouds were not reflected in the water below.

The solution was to select the upper clouds, then copy them into a new layer.  I then used the Edit–>Transform–>Flip Vertical function to flip the layer and then I dragged it down to the bottom of the image.  An actual reflection should be softer and not as bright as the original object so I used the gaussian blur tool and a decrease in the opacity of the layer to create a look that matched the reflections that were already there.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 2016 06 1PF Final Final

Thanks again to David for providing this month’s image and thanks also to Stacy for keeping this herd of cats heading in a generally productive direction.  Be sure and check out the other contributions at June One Photo Focus.  One again, there will be an amazing variety of interpretations.  In the meantime,

 

Keep Shooting….