Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Gotham Diary:
26 October 2011

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

I can’t say that I’m very happy with this photograph. I could not manage, in more than fifty images, to capture the crispness of each leaf on the mat of vines that covers the back half of the side wall of a building fronting 87th Street — not really that far away. I fiddled with every dial and every setting that Dennis Curtin’s Short Course linked to sharpness. Perhaps I ought to try my skill on a somewhat closer subject. Perhaps manually setting the focus to infinity is overshooting it. If anyone has any ideas, you know where to get me. In a few weeks, when the leaves fall off, the white wall will be crazed with woody ropes. That would make a good picture too, if I could capture the detail so sorely blurred here.


I was in a mood to stay home and teach myself photography, yesterday, but I had a ticket in the drawer that I could not let go to waste. Ensemble ACJW is a group of young musicians — but I’m not even going to try to summarize the humanitarian goulash of mission statement that takes up a page of the program. The musicians comprising the Academy (“A”) are recent graduates of Juilliard, Eastman, &c. (“J”) They commit to teach music, on some unspecified level (and with very unspecified frequency), at New York City’s public schools. (No initial for this.) Now they are giving recital series at Weill Recital Hall (that’s what the “W” stands for), which is of course in Carnegie Hall. The name of the group left me wondering whether the nation’s business schools or Central Marketing will be the death of this country.

The Ensemble’s first program of the season served double duty as an entry in “Tchaikovsky in St Petersburg,” a curious title for a string of musical events actually intended to commemmorate the composer/conductor’s opening concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1891. (It was there that music from the Nutcracker was first played anywhere.) As their contribution, the Ensemble offered a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in a, which is perhaps best thought of as not just another piano trio. Works by Glinka and Arensky filled out the first half of the bill. As cellist Yves Dharamraj pointed out in his remarks before the Arensky, the three works on offer covered the variety of musical direction taken by Russian composers in the Nineteenth Century. Happily, the actual music was more than edifying.

Glinka’s Trio Pathétique for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Piano — well, pathétique can only mean that it is written in the latest European style. Written in 1832, it bears all the hallmarks of music and art dating from the Silly Quarter (1815-1840). The first movement was free-ranging if not absolutely incoherent, but the second and third movements did a better job of imitating Weber (who wrote so well for both clarinet and bassoon) and, through him, the frill and fun of bel canto roulades. Alexey Gorokholinksy deftly met the score’s virtuoso demands, but Shelley Monroe Huang performend the slightly more remarkable feat of making her bassoon sound like a chamber instrument in need of larger repertoire. For pianist Marina Radiushina, the work must have served as a welcome warm-up to her second-half challenge.

Then we had Anton Arensky’s second String Quartet, an oddity calling for two cellos instead of two violins. It’s a lovely piece, but I spent the entire second movement trying to remember more about the LP that tacked the quartet’s theme and variations, adapted for a full string section, onto a recording of Tchaikovsky’s famous Serenade. It’s really the only Arensky that I’ve ever known, and I never knew that it came from a string quartet. Emily Popham Gillins, Mr Dharmaraj, and Hamilton Berry all played very well, but it was Margaret Dyer’s strong viola that caught my ear.

Mr Berry came to the fore in the Tchaikovsky, which he played with Ms Radiushina and violinist Keats Dieffenbach. He played with a passion that would have set the house on fire if Ms Dieffenbach had shared it. She played extraordinarily well — like a god, as they say — but the collegiality of top-notch chamber music was missing by a hair. Tchaikovsky hadn’t wanted to write chamber music for strings and piano; like almost everyone who wasn’t a German, he found the combination of bowed and percussive sounds indigestible. But the death of his mentor, Nikolai Rubinstein, jarred the composer into a change of heart, and the piano trio, nicknamed “Elegiac,” is the result. Tchaikovsky resorts to a couple of devices to soften the clash between the violin and the cello, instruments that had not been changed since early in the previous century, and the piano, which had recently been reconceived for steroid-ophonics. One is to subdue the keyboard with burbling arpeggios. The other, to very opposite effect, is to keep the strings in bold unison.

I had only the dimmest memory of the trio befefore last night’s performance, and what I remembered was that unison writing. I remembered it for the same reason that I had for not getting to know the trio better. Mr Berry and Ms Dieffenbach may not have infused their performance with white-hot surrender, but they did play the unison passages in tune. It was not so on the recording that introduced me to this work (a late offering, as I recall, of the Heifetz-Piatigorsky collaborations). I thought, callow youth that I was, that Tchaikovsky’s unison writing was bare and uninspired, and the venerable musicians’ meandering did nothing to suggest the power that can be attained by setting strings soaring together over a thundering Niagara of piano music. That was last night’s surprise. I saw that Tchaikovsky knew what he was doing, and I was quite stirred by it.

Here’s how good Hamilton Berry is: as a young man, he’s a bit woolly and indistinct, prone to shuffle on and offstage in a self-effacing manner that Mr Dharamraj, for one, ceertainly doesn’t share. But when it came time for the waltz variation in the vast second part of Tchaikovsky’s trio, the otherwise unprepossessing cellist became an Ethan Stiefel. There was no way that a man who could play that well couldn’t dance that well — or such was the illusion.

Gotham Diary:
21 October 2011

Friday, October 21st, 2011

As a rule, I don’t say much about the photographs in these daily entries, but I intended to explain yesterday’s, because I think it’s pretty desperate to run photographs of your own living room for no rhyme or reason. I mean, get a life! But yesterday’s snap was not your your ordinary point-and-shoot-your-standards-in-the-head. It reflects an entirely different kind of panic.

On Wednesday afternoon, during very rough weather through which Kathleen had to fly home from Washington, I was feeling unsettled, to put it mildly, a few hours after she had sent me an email from the runway. I was answering a letter to my friend JR in Paris when the anxiety got hormonal. I had been writing to JR to apologize for, or perhaps to whine about, my failure to make good use of the capabilities of my rather dandy little camera, the widely-admired Canon S95. I had never taught myself, for example, how to control the aperture and the shutter speed in order to take a better photograph than the automatic settings would produce. So here I was, feeling bad about two things, and it hit me that I could something about one of them.

I mounted the camera on the tripod and got out Dennis Curtin’s (rather maddeningly organized) Short Courst in Canon PowerShot S95 Photography, which I’ve mentioned here before. In no time at all, I was twiddling the Control Dial and twirling the Control Ring, and observing the results right on the viewing screen — something that you couldn’t do, of course, in the old days in the days when film cameras were innocent of digital technology. It would be an exaggeration to say that I “familiarized” myself with the camera; I’ll almost certainly have to reach for the Short Course next time I want to do more than take a picture off the top of my head. But it was very nice to see an interior shot, taken without a flash, that did not render lampshades as pulsing plasmas. I know that, to take good interior shots without a flash, you need a bit of indirect lighting, usually provided by spots on tripods diffused by umbrellas, and now I’m more determined than ever to provide myself the appropriate gear.

Kathleen called before I’d loaded the images onto the computer. Meanwhile, yesterday

There is still much to be learned, but not by Ray Soleil, who managed to mount the floating shelves and to hang the Blondel prints on our recalcitrant walls.

Wow. Wow!

Monday, December 14th, 2009


From The Online Photographer.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009


¶ Matins: Just what we all need: China produces and sells more than 12,000,000 cars in a single year.

In a sidebar, Jorn Madslien reports that Shanghai Automotive Industries owns a majority share of Shanghai General Motors’s venture in India, leaving (American) General Motors to take “a back seat.” (BBC News)

¶ Lauds: A very interesting comment from Felix Salmon, writing about productivity/price differentials between the fine-arts and photography markets. The former has split in two, with mass-marketed items buoying a “an elite circle of valuable works.” The dynamic hasn’t been tried in photography.

¶ Prime: Alex Tabarrok writes about Project Cybersyn, an economic regulator waaaaay ahead of its time. (Marginal Revolution)

¶ Tierce: How to account for same-sex liaisons in terms of natural selection? The investigation promises to be complex and counterintuitive. Also: resistant to cross-species generalizations!

Gore Vidal has always insisted that there is really no such thing as homosexuality; perhaps he’s right after all. (New Scientist)

¶ Sext: What you need to know in order to navigate the tricky holiday shopping season: it will cost $395. (The Onion; via The Morning News)

¶ Nones: New, and with more than T-shirts: Ottomaniacs!  One thing seems clear: Turkey is finally emerging from Atatürk’s secular tutelage, a nation with imperial memories. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: At HuffPo, Alexander Nazaryan proposes Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland as the American novel of the passing decade. We heartily concur, and we nominate Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End as runner-up.  

¶ Compline: Witold Rybczynski reports that academic architects still don’t like Christopher Alexander’s patterns. (Slate; via Arts Journal)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


¶ Matins: Kenneth Davis writes about the first Thanksgiving to be given on land that would one day be part of the United States — by Huguenots in Florida. Their base, Fort Caroline (named after Charles IX), did not last very long; nor did they: the Spanish eradicated everything in 1565.

Mr Davis’s litany of religious persecutions in America exhorts us to regard Thanksgiving not as the commemoration of a hallowed past but as a celebration of how far we have come from our dark origins — and a reminder of how far we have yet to go. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Charis Wilson, Edward Weston’s most notable muse (and his only “art wife”), died last Friday in Santa Cruz, aged 95. (Los Angeles Times; via Arts Journal)

As it happens, we’ve been reading about Charis Wilson in Francine Prose’s The Lives of the Muses. Great reading!

¶ Prime: We’re not terribly interested in the recent privatization of Chicago’s parking meters — or, rather, we weren’t until Felix Salmon decided to look into the matter. His conclusion: the city didn’t do too badly, and the contractors are idiots. The detail worth noting is that what Chicago’s alderman wanted, of course, was to raise parking meter prices without being accountable.

¶ Tierce: The Aesthete unearths the strange figure of George Sebastian, an adventurer who married American money and used it to builid Dar Sebastian, still a breathtaking edifice in Hammamet, Tunisia. (An Aesthete’s Lament)

¶ Sext: We love a good prank as much as anybody — probably more, as long as we’re not the victim — and so we’re rejoicing at the news that The Awl now has a whole department devoted to reviewing “pranks and their aftermaths.” Okay, they have Juli Weiner, who we hope is still enrolled in a good college.

¶ Nones: William Finnegan’s New Yorker excellent report on the situation in Honduras is not, sadly, online, although an abstract is available. For regular readers who have been following the matter here, there is little substantially new in the piece, and in fact we were gratified to read that coup leader Roberto Michelletti, in television appearances, “tends to glower, and speak from the side of his mouth, like Dick Cheney.” However, we hadn’t encountered anything like Mr Finnegan’s thumbnail of the constitution that ousted president “Mel” Zelaya wants to replace.

¶ Vespers: We’ve read Lauren Elkin’s review of Jeremy Davies’s Rose Alley several times now, and while we’re not certain that we want to read the novel, we’re intrigued by Ms Elkin’s account of it. (The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings) takes “a look at what the Intenet is doing for learning, curiosity, and creativity outside the classroom.” There’s a lot about TED, which appears to be better understood in Europe than it is here. (Good)

To see how traditional education appears on the Internet, have a look at the Syllabus of Dr E L Skip Knox’s fully online course, sponsored by Boise State University, in HIST101 — The History of Western Civilization. (via MetaFilter)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009


¶ Matins: A Times over the weekend exhorted Goldman Sachs & al to make a genuine apology — in the form of restitution.

¶ Lauds: Michael Johnston raises a very interesting question that is too often overlooked by viewers: where was the photographer standing? (The Online Photographer)

¶ Prime: onathan Ford and Peter Thal Larsen propose three concrete measures for trimming banks down to salvageable — fail-able — size. First, proportional capital buffers. Second, restore a virtual Glass-Steagall by insulating relatively safe activities from relatively risky ones. Third, dissolve global banks into “confederacies of national subsidiaries.” (Prospect)

¶ Tierce: Mike Sachs imagines the dialogue from porn movies starring his parents. (The New Yorker)

¶ Sext: Sam Kean thinks that William Safire and William F Buckley wrote too well. Was this a by-product of their conservatism? (3 Quarks Daily)

¶ Nones: Clan strife (exacerbated by religious differences) appears to be at the back of the gruesome abduction and massacre of at least 20 lawyers and journalists in the Philippine province of Maguindanao, where the writ of Manila appears not to run very effectively. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: Sonya Chung discovers the drawbacks of multitasking — walking the dog while listening to an audiobook. The piece is really about how dogs are a writer’s best friend because they can’t talk, and Revolutionary Road teaches us that talk destroys; but, hey. (The Millions)

¶ Compline: Owen Flanagan reviews an intriguing book: Reading in the Brain, by Stanislas Dehaene. If our brains haven’t significantly evolved for 200,000 years (by the way: how does anyone know this?), then how have we managed to read for the past five thousand? Exaptation! (New Scientist)