Briefly Noted

Things Read, Seen or Heard Elsewhere

Look past New York's shiny bits and you'll find endless stretches of decay. It's a part of its generations-long life cycle.

I used to take long walks around New York City. It’s how I began shooting photos. I’d walk for hours. Click click click. It was a wonderful way to learn the city. I was reminded recently of the following story I did back in 2012. I was living in Queens at the time and my walk from my house where the story begins to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn where we end lasted a couple hours. Enjoy.


Cities like their shiny spaces. New buildings rise. Neighborhoods are born. Parks are built. Cities highlight these things. It’s good for the bottom line.

Shiny, after all, is nice, something to feel good about. But our shiny spaces—gleaming buildings, coveted restaurants, gentrified neighborhoods—are also a facade. They’re a form of urban wallpaper that covers the cracks, rust and mold that cities, like New York, are built upon.

A rusted sign on an abandoned building near the east end of Newtown Creek in Queens
A rusted sign on an abandoned building near the east end of Newtown Creek in Queens

This decay, often beautiful and inspiring, holds our history and whispers stories of success and failure brought on by growth. Interpret these objects correctly and we can see what once was, and what our urban architects abandoned as they turned their attention elsewhere.

Empty streets on the east side of Newtown Creek
Empty streets on the east side of Newtown Creek

Take Queens, home to 2.2 million people. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse place in the world, with 48 percent of its residents foreign born. If Queens were an independent city, it would be the country’s fourth largest, coming in just after Brooklyn, which has 2.5 million people.

Queens sprawls nearly 180 square miles, and encompasses a surprising amount of empty space and forgotten places.

These areas are easy to explore. Say, for example, the east end of Newtown Creek, a 3.5-mile waterway snaking between Queens and Brooklyn.

Rusted doorsteps on the east side of Newtown Creek
Rusted doorsteps on the east side of Newtown Creek

Newtown’s plight is no secret. With little to no current, the water is a stagnant mix of pesticides, PCBs, metals and raw sewage. The creek bed has been described as a fifteen-foot, toxic mix of “black mayonnaise.” And there’s a whole lot of oil: an estimated 30 million spilled gallons from the more than fifty oil refineries that dotted the banks during the 19th century. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the whole area a Superfund site.

But with all the focus on contaminated water, the surrounding area is often overlooked. Head east along the creek into Queens—it runs parallel to the Long Island Expressway—and there are long blocks of single-story buildings: some shuttered, some slightly active warehouses, and an occasional waste management plant here and there.

A family of geese walk down 48th Street near Maspeth Avenue in Queens
A family of geese walk down 48th Street near Maspeth Avenue in Queens

You see very few people but you do see oddities: a family of geese walking down an empty street, or a vast open lot of truckers sleeping in their rigs during the day so they can make deliveries by night. And, if you’ve ever wondered where the cranes that build the city’s skyline are kept when not in use, you’ll find a field of them out here.

Barbed wire protects a crane near the Grand Street Bridge connecting Queens and Brooklyn
Barbed wire protects a crane near the Grand Street Bridge connecting Queens and Brooklyn
Train tracks on 56th Road near Maspeth Avenue, and fittingly, Rust Street
Train tracks on 56th Road near Maspeth Avenue, and fittingly, Rust Street
The Grand Street Bridge connecting Queens and Brooklyn on the east end of Newtown Creek
The Grand Street Bridge connecting Queens and Brooklyn on the east end of Newtown Creek
The front door of the bridge house at the Grand Street Bridge
The front door of the bridge house at the Grand Street Bridge

There’s beauty to all the rust and decay of a mostly forgotten place, one that’s criss-crossed with bygone train tracks, underutilized bridges and corroded signs of what once was.

I’ve never been to a ghost town, but this is a ghostly place—a reminder of economic aspiration and industrial connection within the city and all points east.


Farther south, in Brooklyn, there’s the Gowanus Canal, also no stranger to controversy, attention or criticism. Nestled between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, it’s slightly schizophrenic here. It, too, is an EPA Superfund site. Originally created in 1869 as a transportation and manufacturing center, the city—and developers—recently thought to turn it into the next shiny residential neighborhood.

Looking down at sludge and debris in the Gowanus Canal
Looking down at sludge and debris in the Gowanus Canal

A New York Times article from July 2011 captures the area well, calling it a “fetid stew of dangerous chemicals and toxins, an embodiment of the worst excesses of the industrial age.”

The article goes on: “This is hardly the kind of image one would expect to draw homeowners to the neighborhood. But developers came, envisioning Brooklyn’s next big thing. Nothing, it seemed, could slow the rush, not even the sputtering housing market.”

The banks of the Gowanus Canal
The banks of the Gowanus Canal

Superfund sites and residential development have a toxicity of their own, though, and the money-people fled to the next new space, leaving behind the sludge but also a community of people who live and work around the dilapidation.

An abandoned work area near the Gowanus Canal
An abandoned work area near the Gowanus Canal
Rusted lettering along the Gowanus Canal
Rusted lettering along the Gowanus Canal

Walk the surrounding blocks and you experience a place that appears gripped in a tug of war between past and future. Many of the developers have fled, but people continue to move in—a natural progression of artists and shop workers looking for larger, affordable space.

A tire hangs alongside the Gowanus Canal
A tire hangs alongside the Gowanus Canal
A rope holds a barge along the Gowanus Canal
A rope holds a barge along the Gowanus Canal

Head down Hoyt Street and you come to a gravel yard that sits on the banks of the canal. It, too, is a sign of things that once were and things that could have, would have, been. Activity is slow here; large tractors built to dig and dump and break things stand largely idle.

A tractor’s wheel and ladder in a concrete and gravel yard along the Gowanus Canal
A tractor’s wheel and ladder in a concrete and gravel yard along the Gowanus Canal
The hydraulics of a tractor
The hydraulics of a tractor
A lock holds a metal door shut near the Gowanus Canal
A lock holds a metal door shut near the Gowanus Canal

But look at them, and look at the space and place we’re in. There’s an abandoned beauty to this mess. In a field of rust, within this city of shine, you begin to sense what once was and, maybe, what will be.

Gallery

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Walking the beaches of Block Island, RI.

Homa and I took a day trip to Block Island. It’s a beautiful blip off the coast of Rhode Island. I worked there one summer during college, returned regularly but I haven’t been for a good ten years or so.

It was a lovely end-of-October Sunday. Here’s some of what we saw.

Select images to embiggen.
Rocks along the way to a light house
Rocks along the way to a light house.

A tree trunk lays on the Sandy Point beach. So too my wife.
A tree trunk lays on the Sandy Point beach. So too my wife.
More driftwood along the beach.
More driftwood along the beach.
Dunes along the way to the lighthouse.
Dunes along the way to the lighthouse.
More dunes, this time it's scraggily.
More dunes, this time it’s scraggily.
The dunes at Sandy Point with Block Island North Light in the background.
The dunes at Sandy Point with Block Island North Light in the background.
The back side of Block Island North Light in Sandy Point.
The back side of Block Island North Light in Sandy Point.
Block Island North Light in Sandy Point, built in 1867 and made of granite and iron.
Block Island North Light in Sandy Point, built in 1867 and made of granite and iron.
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It's late October and our tomatoes are out in force.

We planted our first garden last spring. It’s now late October and the tomatoes keep coming.

Yellow tomato from our garden.
Red tomato from our garden
Purple tomato from our garden

I’m beginning to feel like Forest Gump’s friend Bubba Buford Blue as I think of different ways to prepare them all. There’s sliced tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato salad…

View on YouTube

ImagesSony A7iii, Tamron 28-75 with a 16mm extension tube.

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It's late October and our wildflowers are still going strong.

My wife planted wildflowers last spring. First they didn’t sprout and I thought they were all duds. Then, for the longest time, they looked like a bunch of weeds.

“It’s just weeds,” I told her, ready to rip them of the ground.

“They’re flowers,” she replied.

“No, seriously, let’s make a bet.”

I lost the bet but it wasn’t until late August or early September before the flowers really arrived. It’s late October now and here’s what they look like.

Wildflowers in Rhode Island
Wildflowers in Rhode Island
Wildflowers in Rhode Island
Wildflowers in Rhode Island

Update: Here are the same flowers after two days of sitting waterless in my basement.

Wildflowers in Rhode Island

Images: Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75 with a 16mm extension tube.

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Somehow, we stumbled out of New York City and into Rhode Island. It took a long time, it was a bit accidental, but we finally found home.

My wife and I moved to Rhode Island this winter.

The move was more opportunistic than deliberate. As in, we’d talked a lot about leaving New York City, and for the last two plus years we’d been dividing our time between Los Angeles, New York and Rhode Island. But, we didn’t really have a plan save for the fact that we had one daughter with another on the way and we didn’t want to raise them in the city.

So, the extent of the plan – if plan is what we’re going to call it – was, let’s leave New York City but still be a part of New York City because my wife’s work is very much centered in the city. Oh, and also: let’s also be in Los Angeles when we need to be because her work brings us there too.

In the meantime, let’s have our second daughter in the same southern Rhode Island hospital where we had our first daughter. For the curious, Rhode Island is on our map because I grew up in a beach town here and over the years have willed my appreciation of it on my much more urban wife.

Our daughter was due in late December. In early October we moved out of our New York City apartment, got rid of almost all our stuff, and left for… Los Angeles, because that’s what you do when you’re supposed to be in Rhode Island for the upcoming birth of your daughter.1

We told ourselves that we’d return to New York in early spring with a vague idea that I’d return first and find us a new, larger apartment for our new, larger family.

Come end of November we left sunny California for snowy Rhode Island for the birth of our daughter. My parents winter in Florida so we moved into their place. Without much to do except to wait for daughter number two we decided to look at houses. You know, just to see what was out there. You know, just because we were curious. And, you know, just because someday, maybe, we’d finally leave the city and move to a place like southern Rhode Island.

While all this was going on, I’d ride my bike. I’d look at houses and neighborhoods. I’d think of where we might live. But it was all very abstract. The plan – again, if we really had one – was to return to New York. Looking at houses was a way to pass time, a way to fantasize a bit, a way to imagine a future together with two daughters and how and where they might grow up.

I took photos along the way. I was attracted to the abandoned and near abandoned. I was attracted to the well-worn. I was attracted not to houses where we would live, but to those that told long lost stories about the area near where we thought we’d have our imagined, future home.

Here’s some of what I found.

Abandoned house in Narragansett, RI.
Creaky Porch & Broken Windows. Narragansett, RI. December, 2019.
An abandoned cabin along Route 1 in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Cabin with Chimney. South Kingstown, RI. January, 2020.
An old fishing dorm along Narrow River in Narragansett, RI.
Yellow No 95. Narragansett, RI. January, 2020.
A white house along Narrow River in Narragansett, Rhode Island
The White House. Narragansett, RI. January, 2020.

And then it happened. Boom, our daughter was born. Boom, we found a home. Boom, it was totally different than what we were looking for. Boom, it was in a totally different part of the state than where we were looking. Boom, we made an offer two days before our daughter was born. Boom, we moved in the week before coronavirus shut everything down. Boom, we no longer live in New York City. Boom, we’re ecstatic in our little town of fifteen hundred. Boom boom boom.

We went from a creaky, fourth-floor, Queens walkup to having a giant pond for a backyard.2

Sunset on a lake.
Sunset, from our new home.

All of which is slightly, if wonderfully surreal.

I sit in an unfinished basement in rural Rhode Island typing away because, depending on our perspective on any given day, we (a) lucked our way through a series of deliberate accidents; (b) finally pumped the brakes on life’s inertia and made a decision that we’d bandied about for a few years; or (c) discovered that when an opportunity to find and make a home presented itself, we took it, and are so very privileged that it was something we could do.

  • Actually, Homa had work she needed to take care of in Los Angeles. It also gave us an opportunity to see her family in Orange County. back

  • For those keeping score, I moved to New York in August 1990. I left 29 years later in October 2019. In between I left here and there for some extended stints (Saudi Arabia, Latin America) but the city was always “home”. back

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Giant caveats aside, capturing the spectacular of individual trees is much easier than capturing them in the woods. Let's take a look.

I like shooting trees. I like the walks I take to find one I want to photograph. I like staring at them when I finally get to them. I like circling them, dissecting them, lingering close and moving far away.

With patience, I usually get a shot I’m happy with.

Trees and a wall in Narragansett, RI.
Trees, Wall, Field. January, 2020. Narragansett, RI.

Of course, sometimes the best tree isn’t even the whole tree but, instead, the geometry of its trunk and branches, or the texture of its bark.

Bolsa Trees in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
Branches. November 2019. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, CA.

The woods though, shooting them is a struggle.

I think there are a few things going on. The woods – the deep woods, anyway – supercharge the senses. Before we even get to what’s visually before us we smell deep a composting earth; we hear the quiet, muffled noise of wind and branches, birds and whatever might be calling in the distance; our minds whirl with the cultural resonance of what it means to be deep in the woods; and for me, at least, the woods trigger a nostalgic melancholy of days long past that competes with the thrill of being in the here and now.

Or, put another way:

All forests have their own personality. I don’t just mean the obvious differences, like how an English woodland is different from a Central American rain forest, or comparing tracts of West Coast redwoods to the saguaro forests of the American Southwest… they each have their own gossip, their own sound, their own rustling whispers and smells. A voice speaks up when you enter their acres that can’t be mistaken for one you’d hear anyplace else, a voice true to those particular tress, individual rather than of their species. – Charles de Lint, The Onion Girl.

Exposing that non-visual complexity is hard. So too just getting a decent, formal composition of what we actually see. This is, in part, because of the scale of things. Trees are large. To capture or contextualize them in their environment you need to step back. But stepping back in the woods doesn’t really work because another tree or branch will block the image you’re trying to take. Simply, the woods are too visually busy.1

Take, for instance, the shot below. I tried dodging and burning a path through the middle of it to focus the eye but it’s just too busy. Everything is fighting for attention.

Trees in the middle of the woods. South Kingtown, RI.
Ach, Too Many Trees and Branches and Things. November 2019. South Kingstown, RI.

There was something spectacular about the spot though. I just couldn’t capture the light, the mood, the texture or, really, anything that made this anonymous plot in the middle of the woods so resonant to me. Instead, it looks fairly mundane.

It was frustrating. So frustrating that I went back to the same spot a few days in a row.

Over the winter I spent time photographing the woods in Rhode Island. There’s nothing epic about them. The best that could be said about the woods here is that in the winter they’re fairly stark in a generic sort of way.

I started with a wide angle lens which was a failure. It captured too much – too many trees, too many branches – so I moved on to a light zoom in order to hone in on details I was seeing. I also climbed on a lot of branches.

Moving closer gave me better results. By negating the visual periphery of what I stood in, I was better able to allude to it, better able to capture the feeling of being there. After my defeat trying to capture the entirety of the space, I went back to basics and simply captured textures.

Tree Branch. January 2020. South Kingstown, RI.
Tree Branch. January 2020. South Kingstown, RI.

From there, I stepped back just a bit in an attempt to bring in more elements without overwhelming the viewer with the busyness that is too many trees, branches and lines. I started getting images that give a better sense and feel for this particular place.

Fallen Trees. January 2020. South Kingstown, RI.
Fallen Trees. January 2020. South Kingstown, RI.

I’m happy with the direction this is moving if not yet fully satisfied with the results. I’ll return to the woods this winter when they’re stark again. I think there’s a way – or methodology outside of blind luck – to capture the deep feeling I have there. I just haven’t quite found it yet.2

Various images. Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75,

  • Take, for instance, the first image I posted above. There’s nothing particularly special about the trees in and of themselves, but step back and place them with the stone wall and surrounding field and they carry an interesting resonance. back

  • I’m tempted to drop in the many, many misses from my shoots in the woods but will spare you. I will say that the most frustrating was a beautifully trunk split in half from what I imagine was lightning. I just couldn’t for the life of me do it justice even though I tried over two different days.back

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Young children are notoriously hard to photograph. Here's a lesson or two I learned while chasing after my daughter.

My wife, daughter and I spent most of August in Rhode Island for our summer vacation. I grew up there, my parents still live there half the year and my siblings show up with their families each August. It’s become our annual reunion spot.

Some years ago I started collecting everyone’s photos and creating print albums. It’s a fun project. Tedious when dealing with so many images but worthwhile. It also gives me a chance to get out of my architecture and landscape comfort zone and shoot people which I usually don’t do.

I didn’t make a book last year. My daughter was born and I was too busy (read: tired) to do it. Outside of phone pics of my wife and daughter, I didn’t really take any photographs of the rest of my family

This summer was different. I had my brothers and sister, their spouses and kids, and my parents. My daughter’s 13 months old now. She walks. She explores. We introduced her to the beach. She loves sand. She loves the ocean. I have a new camera. I took a lot of photos.

Here’s the thing though. I don’t pose photographs. I shoot candids. My background is in documentary and it’s a style I use when I photograph people. I’m looking to capture a particular look, moment or interaction.

Besides, kids have cameras in their face so often that many come to resent it. You see it in how they make a face or stick out their tongue when you tell them to look your way when trying to take their picture.

Take too many photos of your kids and they rebel. Telling them to stop what they’re doing, smile and say cheese teaches them to hate the camera. It becomes an object that interrupts their fun.

But I learned something when taking all those photos. Kids are really difficult to document. I was trying to shoot my daughter, one cousin her age, another that’s four, and two more that are six and eight. Each, without fail, looked away at just the moment I thought I had the perfect shot. My first rule of photographing kids runs like so: you will not get the shot you think you’ll get.

Yes, I feel the knowing eye-roll of those who photograph children professionally.

Nonetheless, I let my daughter and her cousins do their thing. I try not to interfere or get in the way. I don’t want them noticing me. Which is how it comes about that just when I think I have a perfect shot, their hair falls across their face, or they turn in a different direction or just suddenly shift. Kids at play don’t sit still. They chase any shiny sight or sound that catches their attention.

Obvious, yes, but something I hadn’t taken into account my first day or two out with them.

But then I started to work with it. I worked with their play in all its messy, distracted glory. That’s the capture. That’s the moment. So, for example, after setting myself up at one end of a field at a pick-your-own fruit farm to photograph my daughter walking toward me, it’s the photo where she ran off in the other direction that’s the keeper.

Sweet Berry Farm, Middletown, Rhode Island
Sweet Berry Farm, Middletown, Rhode Island.

Similarly, I sat along the shore documenting her play and one of my favorite images is the one below. I thought the keeper would be from a split second before when her hands were in the sand and she was looking out toward the ocean. But, no, it’s this one, when she’s digging for imagined treasure.

Digging through Sand. Narragansett, Rhode Island
Digging Through Sand. Narragansett, Rhode Island.

And finally, similar to the image from the farm, I thought the shot I wanted below would be of my daughter coming toward me from her mother. Nope, the keeper is her going back to her.

Finding Momma. Narragansett, Rhode Island.

This isn’t to say that I now shoot back of heads. It’s more about learning to appreciate – and work with – the story that’s unfolding in the movement and body posture within the shot instead of relying on facial expressions to carry a photo.

There’s a second element to all this: sharing images publicly.

One of the reasons I gravitated toward landscape and architecture photography is because ages ago I decided I’d never post identifiable images of friends to social media without their explicit permission. Since it would be a pain in the ass to ask each time, I started shooting inanimate objects. Streets, for instance.

48th Avenue. Queens, New York.
48th Avenue. Queens, New York.

Now that I have a child, privacy issues are even more pronounced. While I’d like to share something with online friends, I’m not ready to share identifiable photos of my daughter. Those I save for private messaging with close friends and family. Online environments are too much of a creep show to do otherwise.1

Besides, my daughter will navigate online identity someday and she won’t need years of daddy photos influencing who it is she wants to project.

  • I should say that I’m primarily referring to social networks of all types and the misuse of information and data they’ve been involved with over and over again. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do on this site. back

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I'm a new father coming upon my daughter's first birthday. There. Are. So. Many. Photos.

An estimated 130 million babies are born each year. A little over 11 months ago, my daughter was one of them.

Like other new parents, I take a lot of pictures of her.1

To manage them I set aside the first Saturday of each month to review and organize the photos. On the second Saturday of each month I write her a note. When I started, I imagined they’d be deep and poetic, full of truths only a father could tell his daughter but I find myself neither deep nor poetic.

Instead, my father-to-daughter notes are a sleep deprived, slightly robotic ramble through our month together. Look, we went to the park; Look, here you are with your grandparents; Look, you were a crazy mess when you started eating solids.1

While slightly mundane, it’s a nice exercise. It gets me to slow down and think about time and life. It’s also, in a very practical, have-you-no-sentimental-bone-in-your-body kind of way, great for organizing the thousands of photos I’ve taken since she was born.

Basically, I tag, rate and generally add metadata to the photos in Adobe Lightroom to (hopefully) make them more discoverable. I then edit the few that go into her note in Photoshop. When I’m done, I make sure they, along with the rest, are backed up first on Dropbox and then on Amazon S3.

As said, this is the unsentimental side of writing to my daughter. It came about after not doing any organizing of the sort last year and feeling buried for weeks on end trying to dig my way out of it.

Depending on the situation, I shoot with either a camera or my phone. Both have their advantages. But the end result is digital detritus unless I do something with it. For me that’s organizing them and eventually creating physical prints and books. Year one of my life with my daughter is currently in the works. Here’s a poster I made a few months ago for my wife’s birthday.

The sentimental side, of course, are moments that once captured will never go away. It’s marking our journey and history together. It’s tracking a new life in all its glorious and messy particulars.

Look, here you are staring at the great big world on a flight to California.

Looking out the window on flight to California.

Somewhere over America. June 31, 2018. iPhone 8+, edited with Snapseed.

  • How many? Approximately a shit ton if you’re looking for specifics back
  • Part of this is not knowing my audience. As in, I’m not quite sure when I’ll actually give her these accumulated missives. My assumption is some milestone birthday, say 13 or 18.

    What I write about – and how I write about it – will be very different depending on when she first reads it. back
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Steel, pain and rust at the 69th street 7 train subway stop

Took a walk down Roosevelt Avenue in Queens and was struck by the 69th street subway stop.

The train’s above ground here as it is as soon as you’re a few stops into Queens. Once you’re out this far though you really get a sense of the decay, age and rust of the stations.

69th Street Subway Station (7 train). January 6, 2019 from 12:40 – 12:50pm.

Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75, various. ISO 100.

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Sunnyside Rail Yards late on a December afternoon.

Near my home is the Sunnyside Rail Yard. It’s a 180 acre Amtrak site in western Queens that’s supposed to develop into… something. Here’s what the New York Times wrote about it in August 2018:

Not far from the geographical center of the city, the massive site is surrounded by Long Island City, Astoria, Dutch Kills, Queens Plaza and Sunnyside itself, with Greenpoint on the periphery.

With a feasibility study already completed and a steering committee formed, the city will hold meetings starting in the fall to develop a master plan for building a deck on top of the yard and placing a small city — on the scale of Battery Park City — on top of it. The idea is not unlike the deck built over the rail yards on Manhattan’s West Side on which the Hudson Yards development now stands…

…Development at Sunnyside Yard has been kicked around for nearly a century, but because of the complexity of any project being built there, has never gotten off the ground. Back in 1931, as part of the city’s first regional plan ever, a skyscraper and an airport were proposed for the site.”

I walked around the site the other day hoping to take some photographs. Unfortunately, it’s completely blocked off on all sides with walls, building and fencing so you can’t really get into it. There are, however, some spots where there are holes in the wall that you can kinda, sorta, poke your lens through or against. Doing so I got this.

Sunnyside Rail Yard.
Click to embiggen

Barely.

Here’s the non-cropped version of the shot above. As I said, you can sort of poke your lens through holes in the walls, or get part of your lens through them. All that dark is the wall preventing the shot.

Sunnyside, Queens Rail Yard. December 29, 2018 at 4:06pm. Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75, 1/50 at f5.6. ISO 100.

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Pelican Bay. Naples, Florida on Christmas Day.

Went for a Christmas walk along a berm at my parents place in Naples, Florida and came across this guy.

The day before, I walked along the same berm and came across this much bigger guy.

Naples, Florida. December 25, 2018 at 3:30pm. Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75, 1/50 at f2.8. ISO 100.

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Walked through southern Manhattan the other day and stopped to shoot One World Trade

It was a gray day, late in the afternoon and I had my camera on me. I wasn’t planning on being in the area but I’d walked over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan and there I was.

There are so many lines in this architecture that it’s actually difficult to shoot, or to come up with something a bit different than every other shot we see of One World Trade.

I like what I got here though.

One World Trade

One World Trade. December 13, 2018 at 4:21pm. Sony A7iii, Tamron 28-75, 1/100 at f11.

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I went to the New York Botanical Garden and started to meditate on flowers.

I spent the last few days looking at flowers. It started with a trip to the New York Botanical Garden and ended with photos on my phone.

I don’t know much about flowers save for what I learned in middle school biology class. Flowers are pervy with their stamens and pistils and carpels and pollen hanging out in the open.

Georgia O’Keeffe taught us as much.1 Besides, I know no of nothing else that offloads the tumble of sex and reproduction, quite literally, to the birds and bees.

At least, this is what I think as I stare at these images. This is before I get lost in shapes: the delicate arch, light gravity and soft geometry of petals.

Select to embiggen

I should backtrack a bit though because while the shape and flow of flowers is amazing. So too is plant geometry. Specifically, cacti and their spines.

“You can’t criticize geometry,” the designer Paul Rand once said, “It’s never wrong.” Sure enough, you really can’t because it really never is.

Here we see hard-edged geometry familiar to the non-mathematicians among us. It’s beautiful.

Select to embiggen

As I said though, I know little about flowers and plants. I do enjoy a good Internet rabbit hole though and came across two things.

First, there’s a bamboo species that only flowers every 65 years in a mass flowering event. By mass flowering, we’re talking about any and every bamboo plant anywhere in the world flowering simultaneously. Theories behind this include a variety of math, and the idea that bamboo is trying to overwhelm its predators with an overabundance of food. Some legitimately fear bamboo flowering. With the flowering comes an onslaught of rats that move on to decimate crops.

Second is Darwin. He called flowers an “abominable mystery” that threatened his theory of evolution. He basically needed to solve their existence and evolution for his theories to survive.2

So there’s that.

And then there’s color. Literally, and not to be too practical about it, but I’ve sampled colors from the following flower.

The flower palette.
Follow flowers for your palette
#ac2486#ffdb82#de3933#cbcd50#646813#540535

I’m not color savvy. At all. Which is too bad since I do a lot of design.

I learned my 256 shades of gray years ago, considered it an accomplishment and have basically stuck with it ever since.

But “sunset is still my favorite color,” the poet philosopher Mattie Stepanek once wrote, “and rainbow is second.”

I generally agree but would like to nominate flowers as third.

Sill, if you’re somewhat color deficient, flowers are a good place to break out of monochromatic instincts. Take a photo, sample colors and build a palette. There are worse places to start.

Anyway, here are shapes and colors from the botanical gardens.

Production: iPhone 6, Photoshop.

  1. Yes, I’m aware that O’Keeffe emphasized form and color when discussing her work and didn’t particularly like the literalist, sexual interpretation of her flower paintings. Still, an artist only has so much say in how their work is perceived once it enters the public. ↩︎
  2. Here are a couple of good reads on Darwin, flowers and evolution:

    Darwin and the Evolution of Flowers, Royal Society

    Where Did All the Flowers Come From?, New York Times

    The Abominable Mystery: How Flowers Conquered the World, BBC

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I went to the White Moustache factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn to shoot images of their Whey Turkey Brine.

I went to the White Moustache factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn to shoot images of their Whey Turkey Brine.

Photos shot under factory fluorescents with a Canon 7D using a 35mm 1:1.4 lens.

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