A while ago, I got to talking to a friend on Writing.com, and his comments spurred Identity Crisis. However, these’s one aspect of his comments I didn’t cover there, and I actually forgot about it until a month or so ago when I attended a premiere at a local photo gallery. That aspect is audience expectations.
Steve (said friend) said that artistic photography should make some sort of statement about reality. I’ve already stated the reasons I disagree with that idea. In recent weeks, though, I’ve found I might not be the only one. Let me clarify that. I’m not the only one among photography consumers that merits technique and aesthetics over commentary. This is a mindset that can be found even among some (semi) professional photographers. This exhibit was held at Minneapolis Photo Center, a place I didn’t even know existed until last summer. It’s a place that you really only know about if photography is a big deal to you.
The premiere was really crowded, and I had to wait a bit to move from photo to photo. As a result, I had a chance to do some eavesdropping. It was incredibly fascinating. Many people who attended the show focused on the form and technique photographers employed. The nature (heh) of the exhibit certainly encouraged technical remarks. Even so, there were a lot of comments that could apply to most photo exhibits. In particular, I heard one gentleman remark on people downright abusing Photoshop to turn photos into paintings. I totally understand that complaint. Even so, at least these individuals used Photoshop in a plausibly convincing manner.
It was a pleasant surprise ti hear so many people focus strictly on what was in front of them. (Pardon the pun. Again.) There wasn’t any speculation about the photographer’s intent or any larger message. It was people simply enjoying the photos at face value. More to the point, it was people who regularly peruse photography taking everything at face value. Seeing and hearing people admire (or criticize) the images themselves proved enlightening. It also made me wonder about other photography audiences.
I admit I haven’t been around non-photography audiences as much as I’ve been around those who are more immersed in the photography world. When I’ve been around the former, the comments are less technical. At the same time, there aren’t many people seeing the exhibited photos as grandiose statements. Some people remarked on how the photos reflected the times. Others noted very general observations about the composition of the photos. You could hear a pin drop when nudity was involved. Hey, I live in the US and am speaking from experience in US museums. What do you expect? In any case, the comments were broad and superficial even in museum settings. I found that to be intriguing. I think I’ll need to make some more observations, though, to see if this holds up.
A very strange thing has been happening. I’ve been talking to people offline about photography. Trust me what I say this is not something that happens very often.
So what have I been discussing with people? Well, just about anything and everything. I did attend a special exhibit for National Camera’s 100th Anniversary. I didn’t talk to people there, but it was an enlightening visit that preceded some interesting conversations I’d have in the following days. I listened to people talk about their past experiences using the equipment on display. The cameras on exhibit covered the gamut from a 1914 model (that still works!) and 617 format cameras to 80s Polaroids and the first iPhone. I was especially amused by the early digital cameras (point and shoot as well as SLR), as I had some memories of them. My mom had a super bulky Kodak model back in 2001, and I found it better suited for makeshift binoculars. I primarily used it to locate my dad in a crowded convention center after he was sworn in as an American citizen. Good times.
The next morning was when the conversations began. My husband and I had brunch at Signature Cafe before going to the Minnesota Zoo for a visit. Our server (Dave) was a cordial guy who it turns out was into photography and even served as an assistant for a friend who did extensive professional work. We discussed Canon and Nikon cameras. Dave had worked primarily with Canon models up until this last year when he was gifted a Nikon and some lenses. I will cop to Canon probably having better continuous shooting. I have used continuous shooting on Nikon, and it does take a little bit to process. Your finger needs to be on that shutter button a while if you want to get the maximum benefit of this shooting method. Needless to say, I’ve lost some precious opportunities. Thus, I would be more likely to defer to Canon in these cases. That said, we both agreed that the picture quality from Nikon models was overall superior. It’s always good to have a Team Nikon ally. 🙂 After brunch, my husband and I went to the Minnesota Zoo, where photography was the order of the afternoon. Hooray, flutterbies!
A few days later, I ended up conversing with a guy watching the Torchlight 5K on Hennepin Avenue. I went for the parade that followed the race but went early to get a good spot. I found a railing for newspaper racks, and there wasn’t much room in front of said railing, which gave me pretty decent visibility. Anyway, I realized that like a complete dumbass I left my battery at home and didn’t have another on me. While my husband wonderfully went back home to get one, I chatted with the guy to my left. It turns out he’d been in Minneapolis much of the day to take pictures. He had a Canon compact point-and-shoot model and displayed a decent aptitude for the cameras he was using. His composition struck a cord with me, as it was reminiscent of some of my work throughout the years. He asked a lot of questions, and I shared with him the things I’ve managed to learn over time. As I’ve gotten older, I understand that photography is truly an ongoing learning process. Unlike writing, I feel like I have a lot more I can learn in terms of the craft of photography. In some people’s eyes, I wouldn’t be called a photographer. That doesn’t mean I haven’t made efforts to learn what I can in terms of technique and research equipment. During this conversation, I discussed the rule of thirds and elaborated on a panning technique that focuses on a moving subject in the foreground but blurs the background. I even pulled up Facebook photos to show as examples. The gentleman expressed great interest in learning more about the nuts and bolts of photography, and he even laughed at my (completely unplanned) pun in which I used the phrase “the big picture” when discussing the components of exposure. Talking to him also made me realize just how much I have learned so far in taking photos. Between reading, chatting with picture-taking friends, and just going out there, I’ve done quite a bit of work in the roughly 15 years I’ve been taking pictures. I didn’t even realize that much time had passed. 😛 In all seriousness, being able to teach someone a bit about photography made me realize how much I enjoy this craft and how much I want people to understand what it is that practitioners of this craft go through. It’s not whipping out a cell phone and grabbing something to plug into Instagram. It’s a method to look at what’s around you, one that requires great concentration and alertness to any given environment. Thus, people who state that photography is easy miss an important point. Operating a camera is easy. Capturing a photography is another story.
I admit I have a problem. Okay, I have lots of problems, but that’s not the point. When it comes to photography, I find that I enjoy shooting miniatures. This feels a bit like a cop out to me since these miniatures are often posed a certain way thus taking away some of the work I have to do to set up a shot. Most of the time, I encounter these miniatures when visiting railroad museums with my husband (who is very much a train enthusiast). While he’s taking snapshots of the actual train cars and reading all the placards, I’m scoping out a part of the miniature displays where I can set up shop and work on focusing. It’s a pretty good routine. Now these pictures were taken with Cameron way back in September of last year. I have photographed other miniatures since that time, and you’ll see them in the next installation. I’m not sure when that will be, but I figure I’ll cover some other aspects oh photography before delving into more photos of miniatures.
The thing about miniatures is that I actually don’t encounter them that often. When I do, so far it has been confined to model train sets. The thing is, miniatures aren’t all that easy to find in the United States outside of the model train subculture. There are some exceptions, but anyone looking for variety (me) will have to go to Europe. One miniature collection I’d love to revisit is Madurodam. I visited the Netherlands when I was seven, and one of my favorite events during that visit was going to Madurodam. I have a number of photos from that visit, but I didn’t take them. I’d like to go back and photograph the exhibits myself. I’d especially love to photograph the replicated Schiphol Airport. The planes taxied down the runway but alas did not fly. It was a very captivating sight for a child, and I’d probably have lots of fun photographing it myself. Until then, I’ll seek out nearby miniatures. They’re a nice change of pace photography-wise.
We’ve now arrived at the motley crew section of the light rail stations. Cedar-Riverside, Franklin Ave and Lake Street/Midtown are all quite different from each other. However, they do have some common threads. First, these three stations are all located near heavily non-white populations. Second, in developing the art for the platforms, glass plays a prominent role. Lastly, all of these stations have good views of the Minneapolis skyline. The aesthetic is very urban for all of these stations, but each are very distinctive. With that, let’s visit Cedar-Riverside, where curvature and skyline views help shape the aesthetic of the station.
As you can see, the station decor consists of metal sculpture that may just look like stripes at first glance. I know if took me some time to realize what was really going on with the primary-colored stripes. In case you hadn’t figured it out, those stripes are actually stylized depictions of buildings on the skyline. There’s also a carving of the Stone Arch Bridge, which is visible for the residents living on the mid-to-upper level floors of the Cedar-Riverside housing project right next to the station. I’m usually at this station because walking to it from Cedar Avenue shaves ten minutes off my commute to Bloomington (which I’ll discuss as we progress further down the light rail line). Anyway, so after waiting for the train at this station over many months, I found myself examining the stripes. The discovery of the detail work at this station actually inspired me to start looking at the aesthetic quality of the other stations. Let’s take a look closer, shall we?
(On a side note, the angle of the sun in that last photo makes me think of lens flare, which in turn makes me think of J.J. Abrahms. Couldn’t resist sharing that random tidbit.) Anyway, there’s more to this station than the striped sculpture. Remember what I said about glass earlier. Well, at Cedar-Riverside, you might want to look up *hinthintnudgenugde*
As you can see in that last photo, thick glass is a requirement at these stations, but it still is replaced fairly frequently due to objects thrown against it and temperature extremes. Sometimes, though, the splintered glass creates cool effects, which I’ll show in a little bit. Why don’t we move onto the Franklin Avenue station? The important thing to keep in mind with this station is it’s the train depot for the Hiawatha Line. Thus, much of the decor will reflect this niche (along with some of the neighborhood’s quirks).
The Franklin Avenue station was the first to start using what I call MetroTransit issue glass. These panes take symbols of Metro Transit and create a tapestry which emphasizes public transporation. For the most part, I have no problem with it, but there is an exception to this statement, which will be discussed/ranted about at length in the next entry. Anyway, what are these symbols? Here are closeups of the bus, light rail, and North Star symbols found on these panes of glass.
The last stop on today’s leg of the tour is the Lake Street/Midtown station. This station is very interesting from a design perspective. While not the only elevated platform (Franklin Avenue being the other one), Lake Street is very open and unprotected from the wind. On top of that, it has the highest elevation of any of the platforms, so if something goes wrong up there it’s a real pain to have to handle. Doors get frozen open in the winter up there, and you can’t have much in the way of elaborate artwork because the temperature shifts warp mounting joints faster than you can say “light rail”. Thus, much of the aesthetic value at this station is design-based.
That last frame is an example of when broken glass looks really cool. If it wasn’t so hazardous, I’d be totally down with the MetroTransit staff leaving those panels up along the far sides of the platform. I tend to sit on correct side of the train car to see these panels when I head to work in the morning. Quite frankly, I prefer looking at the crystal-esque glass panes over the street view of jaywalkers, littering and Hi-Lake Liquors. On the upside, though, there is a nice thing to look at on the Lake Street platform. Take a look. 🙂
From here, the tour will make its way to the working south. When I say working south, I’m talking about some of the more industrial areas of Minneapolis. You wouldn’t think that art would be given much consideration in a commercial/industrial hubbub, but the Hiawatha Line will turn everything you know about working area aesthetics on its head. Stay tuned.