Archive for category: Idiosyncratic Celebrations

Sweet Sixteen

12 Jun 2009
June 12, 2009
The Wedding Couple

The Happy Couple on Our Wedding Day

Sixteen years.

After sixteen years of marriage certain things fit perfectly. Two artists, we started with an artists’ wedding and each year we’re reminded of this beginning. It’s a day to remember our coupling but also who each of us is. We both want to get back to making art.

We’ve been going to the same restaurant for the past seven years to celebrate. Because of the restaurant’s database, they always remember which anniversary we’re celebrating and our menus are printed with a celebratory “Happy [Fill in the year] Anniversary.” They always take us to the same area of the dining room where there are three tables-for-two set in a triangle. Some years we dine alone. With young children it’s wonderful to be adults and not just parents. And we marvel how facile we are when slip into adult conversation. And there’s always wine. I make a play for the sommelier, describing at length the flavor and finish we’re looking for. It is my finest hour as a wine connoisseur. Well, I know what we like—we’re a very compatible wine couple.

If there are others at the other tables we may converse with them, sharing our celebratory events. If not, we’re happy to be alone.

This year, the couple on our left was already seated when we arrived. We could tell she was celebrating her birthday. But it was obvious they only had eyes for each other. The table on our right was still unoccupied. There was a chance we’d meet someone interesting.

Finally two gentlemen were seated. My wife and I continued talking with each other. When our entrees arrived one of the men looked over and commented on our food. A good conversational opener. I’ve used it myself over the years. We were happy to engage.

They were in town for the weekend, up from southern Virginia. Hampton Roads if memory serves me. He was a lapsed Catholic priest now in local government and the other he was retired. They loved DC. Easy to get to, they’d spent the day traversing the Smithsonian on the Mall. I, of course, felt it my duty to wax poetic on the American Art Museum. Not on the Mall, often people will miss the splendor and history of the Old Patent Office Building where the museum is housed. I know my lines (it’s my job). It was easy to make a visit there enticing. They were leaving the next day but would make sure they went before taking off.

I asked Mr. Lapsed Priest how he felt about Father Alberto Cutie, who had just left the Church after breaking his celibacy. “When I left the Church we wanted to get far away.” “Far away from his former parishioners,” his partner added. So we moved from Michigan to southern Virginia. And then he chuckled (not a laugh, it was definitely a chuckle).

“The first weekend in our new home we went to church. As we were leaving someone tapped him on the back and said ‘Aren’t you Father Smith?'”

You can never get away from your past. That evening, that was just fine with us.

A Presidential Portrait in Cupcakes

14 Feb 2009
February 14, 2009
Obama Lincoln Portrait

Portrait of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln in Cupcakes Click image for larger view.

Fridays are supposed to be light days with anticipation of the upcoming weekend filling workers heads worldwide. Yesterday, was anything but as our anticipation was redirected to the cupcake portraits being constructed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, my home-away-from-home every weekday. Zilly Rosen and her group had prepared 5900 vanilla cupcakes and were carefully placing them in just the right places to reveal a duo portrait of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln –a combo St. Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day homage (that’s the word we use in art museums for this kind of thing).

The process was being broadcast live over the Net with thousands remotely watching. (As the portrait nears completion today you can still view it live.) I got the chance to see it first hand as the faces slowly were revealed. When you looked at the work directly it was hard to see Obama’s and Lincoln’s faces. However, looking through my camera viewfinder, the smaller image reduced the size of the “pixel/cupcakes” and the images became crystal clear.

The family’s heading out later today to see the final portrait and, at about 5 pm EST, we’ll all get to sample a bit of Presidential history. Ummm, cupcakes. My ten year old can’t wait.

Update: I have uploaded my best photographs of the installation and “de-installation” (i.e. eating) of this Presidential portrait to my flickr photostream.

Anatomy of a Photograph

08 Feb 2009
February 8, 2009
Portraits taken at Obama's Inauguration

Details from some of my Inaugural portraits

As I began to look at the photographs I shot during the Inauguration I realized how many portraits of people I had taken that day: from soldiers and police who were doing traffic control (and other more subtle national security tasks) to the many different citizens who came to celebrate and sell their souvenirs. As I said initially, this was a very different Inauguration than the last two I attended. Few protesters, it was more celebratory than either of the last two Bush events.

Over the years I have spent a lot of time thinking about the best camera to take on these urban photo safaris. In 2001 I dusted off my Pentax 6×7 to shoot medium format “real” film at Bush’s first Inaugural. This had been my go-to camera during the 1990s. Medium format gave me great detail for large prints and I loved the quality. But that January 20th I realized this would be the last time I would ever used this camera –too few shots per roll and, weighing in at almost four pounds, it was heavy as hell. This was not well-suited for the type of urban documentary photography I was interested in and my back was no longer willing to carry it around. It became a burden to take pictures. I needed to make an adjustment just as digital cameras were coming into their own.

In 2005 I brought my first digicam, the tiny Pentax Optio S5. Oooh, it was light and its featherweight brought the fun back for me. But the measly optical zoom (3X) didn’t allow me to get close to some of the action at Bush’s second Inauguration. So I began looking for something closer to my dream combo: a lightweight camera with a massive zoom. The winner was the Panasonic TZ3 (and now its successor the TZ5). It was a bit heavier than my S5 but not by much and it had a 10X optical zoom (the longest zoom on the lightest camera around). It didn’t have processional settings like the Nikon P5000 or the Canon G9 so I wouldn’t have the most control over the images I took but I figured I could do what I needed in post-production using Photoshop.

So this year it was me and my TZ3 welcoming our new President on the National Mall. When you’re taking impromptu street portraits you don’t have a lot of time to contemplate your camera settings. You point and you shoot. I asked people if I could take their photograph. Sometimes I’d just be able to get one shot off before my subject moved on. That’s street photography: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment. I was in a maelstrom of people moving in all directions. Getting someone to stand still for a minute wasn’t easy.

As I looked at my images on the computer later that evening I started to form opinions about what I had taken. Going in without a strict notion of what I wanted to take (how could I, not knowing what to expect), I relied on my internal photographic senses on the street. However, now I had the time to make decisions about the final images. And I realized that some would require a shallow depth-of-field to separate the subjects of my photos from their background. Unlike my formative photographic years when I could do that by as I was taking the photography using a wide aperture, I was going to have to recreate this via Photoshop. And to do it right was going to entail a multi-stepped process.

Read more →

Celebrating with a Few Million Friends:
The Inauguration of Barack Obama

22 Jan 2009
January 22, 2009
Greetings from Washington, DC

A “postcard” view of the Inauguration taken from the top of the Washington Monument. The circle marks our spot on the Mall. Click image for larger view. (The original can be found here.)

My twelve year old daughter and I got up early to catch the Metro downtown to Barack Obama’s Inauguration. We didn’t know quite what to expect. No one did. There were numerous unknowns: how many millions would crowd the Mall that day, would the Metro be able to handle the heavy traffic, and where would the best vantage point be to witness the festivites. But I had to go and I wanted to bring my daughter. She’s at the age when she’s aware of cultural and political events and has started forming strong opinions about them. This would be something she would remember.

The Metro platform was full of people but the cars were relatively empty when we got on. As we moved towards downtown they quickly filled. The atmosphere was celebratory, like we were going to a homecoming football game. In the last few months we had all been rooting for the same team and this was our party.

We met friends at a Starbucks close to the Mall and walked the short distance towards the Washington Monument. After scouring all the printed Inaugural primers, this was part of the deployment plan my friend Randall and I devised a few days before. The stream of people moving towards the Monument was fairly light at 8 a.m. and surprisingly, we found no security checks at the perimeter, just a volunteer who welcomed us as we walked in. This was in stark contrast to our expectations (and the warnings of the Secret Service) and the experiences of those closer to the ceremony in the ticketed areas. We staked out our place on the eastern slope to the Monument in close proximity to a Jumbotron, facing the Capitol about a mile away.

With three hours until the kickoff, my daughter and I went exploring and photographing. The landscape was filling with people. And I was beginning to feel wrapped in a sea of left-of-center love. By the time we decided to return to our places we had to go against a human tsunami trying to get as close to the action as possible. Along this path I photographed some of the people, the law enforcement, and the media we encountered.

During huge events like this I like to photograph the periphery. That’s often where all the interesting visuals are happening. But unlike four years ago when I photographed George Bush’s second Inaugural, moving around, let alone finding those edges was impossible. Too large and too crowded. Instead, I focused on those in close proximity.

Different, too, from four years ago was the atmosphere of this event. Very few protests, it was more of a true celebration for change. I could feel that relief as I chatted with those around us. We clapped when various dignitaries were announced. And we began singing Steam’s song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” when Bush arrived on the dais. Joy. After eight long years 01 20 09, Bush’s last day, had finally arrived.

When the moment for Obama’s swearing in came, rather than face forward, I turned around to capture the reaction of those behind me. And then I hugged my daughter.

Additional Images: You can see the rest of the photographs I took at the Inauguration here. I’m still culling my images for a few more gems.

Inauguration Porta-Potties #2

17 Jan 2009
January 17, 2009
Sign on Porta-Potty

Pierson’s Comfort Group, LLC gets the award for the best slogan in the Porta-Potty business. Click image for detail.

Don’t think me anal but I must continue my porta-potty report from yesterday. This morning the Washington Post is reporting on the details of the massive Inaugural stimulus package on the National Mall (let it be known that this venerable newspaper is just as astute at word play as I am, titling this article “Mall Area Is Flush With Portable Facilities”).

According to the Post, Conrad Harrell, vice president of Chantilly-based Don’s Johns thinks “the total inaugural Toilet Tally could top 7,000. That’s a one-day bathroom capacity of nearly half a million gallons, an epic of septic. ‘There was an event in Germany where they installed 8,000 for a visit by the pope, but there’s never been anything like this in this country,’ said Harrell… ‘We feel like we’re part of history.'” I can’t top that.

But I do have to give the award for the best porta-potty business slogan to one of Harrell’s competitors. Pierson’s Comfort Group states it boldly: “We’re #1 in the #2 business.” I really can’t top that.

Sizing Up the Inauguration

16 Jan 2009
January 16, 2009
Porta-potties next to Washington Monument

Porta-Potties Stand Ready and Waiting for Inaugural Hordes.

Am I ready? Well, to be honest, I am a bit nervous. Will I be standing in a sea of four million out-of-towners or two million –many natives have decided to go skiing. (Follow the rules people and we’ll get along just fine.) Will the Metro actually get me where I’m going? The Metro’s General Manager isn’t so sure. He is sure “something will happen on the 20th.” That’s what I like: confidence.

Am I prepared for the cold and the hours I’ll be standing on the National Mall? I’m working at it. Concerned that I might bring some prohibited item with me I checked out the special Inaugural sections of both the Secret Service’s Web site and the DC Government’s Web site. And I found a discrepancy. The Secret Service says prohibited items are just for the parade and Inaugural Balls. While the DC site says that same list is for all Inaugural events. I put in a call to the Secret Service (their headquarters are right next to my office) and they said they’d get back to me, but never did.

I tweeted the problem and suddenly the Canadian Embassy was following me on Twitter. Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, right on the parade route, the Embassy requested more info. Suddenly, I was at the center of international intrigue. I immediately requested “heat asylum” (to watch the parade from the Embassy’s incredible vantage point all warm and cozy) but was flatly rejected (but some of my best friends are Canadian!). So much for social media’s diplomatic channels.

Bottom line: I’m traveling light. Got my special mittens with “retractable” covers. Underneath are fingerless gloves so I can take photos without fear of frostbite. Layers, layers, and more layers. Bottled water, camera with extra SD cards and batteries, and energy bars. Check. Everything has to fit into my heavy down coat’s pockets. No backpacks allowed. Yep, I’m all set.

Am I worried about taking a pee in this sea of humanity? Nope. I took a lunch hour this week to go down and survey the facilities. The photo above even made the front page of the dcist yesterday.

My biggest concern is whether I’ll be stuck in the middle of the Mall. Unlike four years ago, when the Bush Inaugural crowds were a bit more manageable, it may be hard to move around. I like to photograph the “edges” of the action. That’s where the good stuff usually can be found.

Stay tuned. I’ll be reporting in live from the Inaugural on Twitter from the best, albeit the chilliest vantage point I can find.

Related Post: Inaugural Porta-Potties #2

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