Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shooting Pictures in Ordinary Places

I really enjoy the idea of taking something mundane, ordinary, or limited and doing something cool with it.  In my mind, this is where real creativity comes out.  Sure, you can come up with something innovative and groundbreaking but making something special out of what people see, experience everyday is still a great way to spend your creative energies.

This short post is about my parents' backyard and the shooting I did while I was there over Christmas.  I'd hoped to go out shooting but the weather wasn't cooperating.  Lots of rain.  So I did what I could with what I had.

My parents' very ordinary backyard in the rain.

The next morning I noticed the sun was out.  Everything was dripping and there was a cold chill in the air.  I grabbed my camera and stepped out onto the patio.

As you can see, the light was beautiful.  I took this picture and stepped forward until I was right next to the glowing orange Birds of Paradise.

As was my custom, I started out shooting these flowers from farther away then moved closer until I got this shot.  The other shots are beautiful too but the contrast of the creamy white, orange, rust, and roadrunner blue really shows up when you get in close.  Note the water droplets.

Later that afternoon I was taken by the glowing green of the leaves from one of the large bushes.  I took many shots but couldn't get the right picture so I did what I like to do in those circumstances:  I looked up.

Apparently, shooting into the sun isn't something you're supposed to do.  You turn your back to the sun  and use it to light your subject but I take pictures into the sun all the time.  And I'm not just talking about the endless sunset pictures I seem to take.

Anyway, I was taken by the glowing green of the leaves, the blue sky, the clouds, and the sun between the tree branches so I took several shots.

I love how this photo came out.

I took several of these patio shots.  I really love the deep shadows and how they contrast with the bright green and the peek of sunlight glow at the top.  I also like the blue of my parents' house in this picture.  It provides a kind of grounding for everything else.

I've learned that shooting is all about paying attention to light.  Where the light is (and isn't), what's being lit up and what isn't, and what the colors look like.  In these pictures, the light is affected by the fact that it had been raining for a good part of the day and everything was still wet.  Water (even in droplets) creates another kind of glow and cleans the air which is why the light looks so clear here.

It wasn't long before it started raining again.  That's another thing about shooting pictures, you gotta pay attention to what's going on around you so you can take advantage when you see something that might be worth looking at.  And you need to keep your camera handy.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Musings: Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

***This blog post contains spoilers.***

Le Cercle Rouge is a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.  This film is about an elaborate heist in a well fortified jewelry shop.  I have to admit it's a very deliberately paced film which is a polite way of saying it's a little slow in the middle.  At least by our standards.  There's not a lot of dialogue either.  These things don't detract from the film.  It's beautifully put together and suspenseful but it's not anything near what we would consider an action movie so if you want something that moves fast and has a lot of shootouts, you need to look elsewhere.

I loved this film.  It gets better with subsequent viewings.  And it was put out by Criterion.  I might have to add this one to my collection.

Alain Delon is Corey, a criminal just released from prison, and a man with so much understated cool oozing out of his pores that he enhances every location he happens to be in no matter how dingy or mundane.  Ever wanted to know how to look like you have your shit together?  Ever wonder how you can look amazing while wearing a trench coat, smoking, standing in the mud, while some guy approaches you with a loaded revolver?  Corey's the answer.

Corey makes it all look good.  The car, the rain, the cigarette, the steering wheel.
The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, very interesting.  The colors are saturated but have a muted, cold palate for the most part.  Nothing looks too bright or washed out yet sometimes Corey's hair is so black that it looks superman blue as does his blue eyes, and the whites of the cigarettes and especially the whites of the men's shirts are almost blinding (in one scene, one of the men crosses a river in nothing but his blinding white underwear).

Corey waits for someone to answer the door.
You can clearly see what I mean by the colors being saturated but not overly bright.

The lighting was great too.  I couldn't find the train scenes with their beautiful play of shadow and light but I found the picture below which will give you an idea.
Corey and Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) check out the state of Corey's apartment.  The flashlight, the cobwebs on the phone, the dust, and Vogel's distinctive profile against the window all combine to enhance that film noir look.

Speaking of Vogel, one of the things I really enjoyed about this movie were the relationships between the men.  There wasn't enough exploration of that, in my opinion.  Vogel had escaped from a train while in police custody.  He manages to hide in Corey's car trunk.  I love their meeting in the middle of a muddy field.
I love this shot.  You can just see a bit of warm light coming in from the right there.
There isn't much warmth in this film so I enjoyed this moment.
Vogel notes that Corey has several thousand francs in his jacket even though he doesn't take any of it.  After that Corey offers him cigarettes and a lighter.  As Vogel lights up, they just stare at each other for a few minutes.  They seem to realize they are kindred criminals and after Vogel saves Corey's life, they start working together.  Later, you will see that they have developed a high level of trust and a curious kind of thieves' devotion for each other.

...and Corey are having a moment, almost smiling at each other.
Notice how Corey's collar and tie is just slightly off and his trenchcoat collar is barely turned up in the back.  Also his trenchcoat is very soft unlike the more structured ones the other characters wear (notably the police).

If you haven't guessed by now, I just loved how elegant this film and these men were. Their clothes were beautiful. I also liked that there was very little emphasis on women in this story. Better for me to focus on those shirt collars, trench coats, ties, suits, and fedoras.

Yves Montand portrays Jansen, an alcoholic ex-cop and a brilliant marksman.  He has plenty of issues but still gets the job done.  He also looks great in all black, including gorgeous black overcoat, hat, and gloves (the effect is severe, he almost looks like a priest) while casing the jewelry shop, in a tux while posing as a musician during the job, and in a soft camel colored turtleneck and cardigan while practicing his shooting.

Corey and Jansen (Yves Montand), right, talk about the job.
Jansen is hyper elegant even while his hands are shaking from the DTs
(except when we first see him literally trying to deal with his demons). 

Heist.  In this famous 25-minute sequence no dialogue is spoken.
The heist sequence is justifiably famous.  The jewelry shop is ingeniously fortified and watching them work their way through all the obstacles is a real pleasure.

I know I haven't discussed the story much or Mattei, the police commissioner who is chasing them and who was accompanying Vogel during a prisoner transfer until he got away, some of Corey's other contacts, the nightclub owner, etc. but that's okay.  I'm sure you can find out more information on other blogs, or better yet just watch the movie.

Bourvil as Le Commissaire Mattei looks right at home in this film, as does his underlings.  
This film is fatalistic but I can't tell if the message is that the good guys prevail because they're good or because sometimes things just don't work out in your favor.  Regardless, one message I enjoyed is even if you die face down in the mud shot by the police while running away, you'll still look brilliant if you're wearing french cuffs and a beautiful overcoat.

Just say yes to awesome french cuffs!  Vogel unlocks his handcuffs on the train so he can escape.
Yeah, this is weird film review.  Just watch the damn thing and disregard my menswear fetishist ramblings.

P.S.  I think this film should be remade with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Corey and Tom Hardy as Vogel. Though Gordon-Levitt lacks Delon's unforgettable charismatic cool, he'll do just fine.  Both Gorden-Levitt and Hardy look great in suits and while smoking.  And they had such wonderful chemistry in Inception that I think they would do very well with the "thieves' devotion" part too (as long as the director expands on that even more and keeps the female presence in the film to a minimum).  I can dream a little, can't I?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

City Life: Flowers at the Community Garden

I took this picture today while on my way to get some coffee before settling down for more writing.

Cameras and Shooting

People always seem to be struck by the header photo, the Pink Church.  I have a small sliver of a side window which allows me this view but I have to stand on my couch to look out.  Thing is, no matter how times I take this picture and no matter which camera I use, the photos never come out the same.  I have come to the conclusion that this particular photo is a special moment arrested in time.  I might be able to duplicate it with this new camera I have or even make it better.  We'll see.

The header photo was taken with, get this, my first digital camera, a 5.0 megpixal Kodak EasyShare V550 with a small zoom.  All the early photos on this blog were taken with it (something like the first two years).  Once I was at a Circuit City store looking at cameras.  The two sales guys were young and arrogant.  They were talking about cameras with some other young, arrogant customers.  One of the sales guys made the comment that it was impossible to take good pictures with a mere point and shoot.  I spoke up telling him I'd taken some perfectly lovely photos with my Kodak EasyShare.  He literally rolled his eyes at me.  His credibility went right out the window and so I left the store.  I went back once or twice but never bought anything then Circuit City died a well publicized death.

Left to Right:  Nikon J1, Panasonic DMC-TZ4 with 10x zoom and Leica lens, Kodak EasyShare V550
Shit, I've taken some lovely pictures using my phone camera so I can't help but think that part of taking good pictures is also about how you see, not just the equipment you're using.

I've posted this picture before.  Taken with my Motorola Droid phone camera.
That's a street light shining behind the tree.  A very flawed picture but still striking.
And this, one of my favorite self-portraits, was also taken with the Kodak EasyShare then changed from color to black and white.

Also, posted elsewhere on this blog.  Probably the third or fourth time now.
Most of the photos in the last couple of years were taken with my Panasonic camera.  That little camera has served me well.  Here's its iteration of the Pink Church.

The church at dawn.  Camera shake is a problem for me hence the not quite in focus look.
And, finally, I'll be shooting more with my Nikon, my first camera with interchangeable lenses.  This evening I took the following picture.  Keep in mind it was dark when I took this shot.  As in so dark, I couldn't really see the church.  This camera performs very well in low light.

Actually, I kind of like how this one came out.  I was thinking of replacing it as the blog header but there's something special about the original pink church header photo.
I've got a long way to go before I can really start taking decent pictures with this camera.  I've taken some nice ones so far but don't feel comfortable with it yet.   That just means I'll have to out shooting some more (and posting the pictures to this blog).