Captain Shutter

Street Photography by Pete Ansara

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Dog”gone It!


A few months back, I was in Seattle near Pioneer Square. I stumbled upon a long line of people with pets. There were cats in crates, dogs in arms, children on leashes and one homely ferret happily on display by its happy owner.  I heard one gentleman way in the back of the line say “doggone Tater”! Everyone, in the line just roared with laughter. I was in stitches! The  gentleman’s dog was violating the street code of behavior. Poor Tater the chihuahua was trying to pick a fight with three cats in a kennel…come on Tater…first you were out numbered and second you would have got your ass kicked and found your way into a fiesta boorrrreeeto at Taco Bell!

As I was thinking about what to write for this blog post, I thought about the word doggone. I know the majority of you have heard this term of endearment. Perhaps it was from some John Wayne movie.”Doggone it, say it ain’t so Joe”! A peak on the online dictionary lists several meanings:

  • doggone \dog”gone\, doggoned \dog”goned\, a. [Euphemism from God-damned.]      Damned; confounded; — used as an expression of displeasure;  as, I wish those doggone telemarketers would quit calling at suppertime.  
  • doggone \dog”gone\, doggoned \dog”goned\, adv. Damned; darned; — used as an informal intensifier; as, he’s a doggoned good golfer.
  • doggone \dog”gone\, v. t. Damn; — used to express displeasure or annoyance; as, doggone it!

I found many iterations and origins of its meaning. For you Brits and Scots, there is a story out there that The Oxford English Dictionary states this phrase is actually an alteration of the Scottish term “dagone” which is also a minced oath for “goddamn” as well as “dog on it.” Another imprecation is the old English “pox on it.” The thing I like about Google is you throw a few words into a search box and comes lots of options. I typed in “pox on it”. The most I ever heard about pox was when I was a kid;  I got the chicken pox or “he’s got chicken pox, stay away from him!” OK, then I came across this blog post from a site called, Honour and Inspiration (must be British as they spelled the word honor incorrectly):

Pox on it all: Wednesday, 13 August 2008

I think my son has chicken pox. Actually, I’m pretty sure he has but I don’t want to believe it as it makes me feel weary just thinking about it. He had it before but as he was only 2 months, the doctor warned us he may well get it again. I caught him scratching his scalp and he asked me what the bumps on his head were – closer inspection: classic dew-drop spots in little clusters. Only on his scalp so far though, which I thought was weird. I thought it usually started on the tummy, but maybe I’m getting confused. Anyway, it would explain the grouchiness and the constant feeding the last few days. Though ironically, he seems much better since the spots came out. The biggest pain will probably be keeping them entertained while we can’t go anywhere there will be other people, or have anyone over that hasn’t had it. At least my daughter was 2 when she had it and she got a fairly thorough dose too so I won’t have them both ill at the same time. Here’s hoping it’s a mild dose as before!

I could not stop laughing! Please forgive me if you take the above seriously. I just cannot get over that this person “hopes” for a mild dose!”. I mean who in the world would wish their child pox of any kind, mild or otherwise? Man, what a digression from where I started!

All these good folks lined up with pets and cherubs were on the west side of the building. It was a happy scene. People were all patiently waiting to get a shot, a neuter, a spay for their pets. They talked about life, the day, how thankful they were, etc. I engaged these gracious people for two hours. Not a bad word was spoken. They let me take their pictures. Several stated that they never had a portrait taken. They posed, they spoke and they were happy that I was there…a stranger street photographer with nothing better to do than join their company. On the south side of the same building it appeared to be less hospitable. I walked by and was threatened. I was taking pictures and was warned to “walk on, no pictures”. It was a scene right out of a bad movie. It was west meets south, good vs. evil!

What the entire day told me is that a pet, no matter what it is, a gerbil, hamster, ferret, dog or cat can sooth the soul. In a troubled world of economic worries and uncertainty good people with limited means find a way to take care of the animals that take care of them in ways that are unexplainable. If you have a pet I am sure you have this sense of love and devotion to your pet. They don’t talk back to you. They are loyal soldiers passing time that is meaningful and memorable. I often read stories of a pet saving a life wether it be from fire, illness or some other disaster. We see dogs on TV sniffing out the potential of live bodies under crumbled building after an earthquake. We see beagles at airports sniffing out potentially harmful agriculture that could cause havoc on farms, people and livestock. We see the dog that walks the blind man down the street or the dog that alerts a woman to an oncoming seizure or a drop in blood sugar. For many of us, our pets is our life line. Not so long ago I lost our boxer, Chillie after almost 12 years of life. She was a loyal friend to the end. So, for all of you, please remember that a pet can give a person dignity, courage and help them live life!

South meets west

Mom…daughter…pups

Mr. Ferret

Long line

Tater Patater

Community Conversation

Sniff…sniff

Me and My Friend

Thrilled

All Smiles

Expressive

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Flying Dog Changes the World


The other day I was in Seattle at Pioneer Square. It is a cool place to relax, watch people and take a few snaps.  There is a storefront wedding photography business close by. On a Saturday, I generally see people in wedding garb posing somewhere in the square. I have also see other photographers taking family and portrait shots. It is a decently photogenic location. If you just wait a bit something is bound to happen that makes the perfect random photo. Henri Cartier-Bresson calls these opportunities The Decisive Moment. Bresson lifted a bit of text from  the 17th century Cardinal de Retz stating that, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”. He further stated, “Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”. Good stuff to ponder.  I observed this couple playing fetch the stick with their dog repeatedly (thank goodness). I kept snapping to try to catch this speedy guy in mid-air. It took about 10 tries but wallah, I captured that one random or decisive moment that Bresson speaks of.

On The Run

Next I stumbled across a photographer shooting a model with 20’s garb. I asked what they were doing. They casually stated that they were friends and were out and about taking “fun shots”. She noticed my camera, Leica M4 loaded with film. Since they were having fun I asked if I could take a couple of shots. She said she “approved” because I had a film camera.

Pondering

The Other Photographer

These opportunities are all around you. So carry a camera wherever you go. Hang out at the park or somewhere you know that has lots of activity like people walking by, playing fetch with their dog and so on. Keep it simple; an inexpensive digital camera works. You camera phone works too. You do not need anything fancy. Jot down a few things that you would like to capture. Don’t neglect the everyday subjects as everything is everyday if that makes sense. Take the opportunity to learn. Ask other photographers questions and search the web for information. For example, if you have a camera phone, there are free photo apps out there that can be fun to use to enhance your images. Experiment, experiment, and experiment some more! Use different settings on your camera if you have them. Read your manual or research on-line to use creative options. And last, snap, snap, and snap some more you may catch that “decisive moment”.

If you had only one shot left in your camera with an understanding that whatever you snapped a picture of could change the world in the most positive way, what would you take a picture of? Why?

A Little Perspective on Street Photography


I have been shooting on and off for over 35 years. I was the guy on the junior high field trip that brought the instamatic and extra film. Back then like today, you really don’t need much equipment or instruction to start snapping. Today’s technology has so many advances that I am almost afraid to see what is next. I still shoot film and lots of it. My trusty Leica M4 has never failed me. It requires no batteries, just a bit of film. My son tells me that I am just stuck in time. I am not sure how he can say this. I shoot digital too.

Just the other day as he was admiring my Leica. I described to him various types of films, grains, color vs. black and white, etc. Astonishingly, he looked in my bag and pulled an old flash extension with flash cube. It was an old Agfaflux C with Sylvania Blue Dot Flashcube. After I explained its purpose, he thought I was joking began laughing hysterically. Oh well, what the shit does he know.  For those of you who as perplexed as he, I thought I would add the history of the photo graphic flash http://photo.tutsplus.com/articles/history/a-brief-history-of-photographic-flash/

Have you ever seen one of these?

So, what is street photography? I’ve seen lots of definitions and observed lots of images from “masters”. I am not sure if there is a precise answer. I shoot lots and have my own simple definition: Street Photography is the capture of a random act in a public place. An act need not be active like a person running down the street or a dog jumping over a puddle. It may be passive, a person in thought, a man sleeping on a park bench or a dead bird lying on a sidewalk. There is no subject matter. It is not necessarily journalistic or storytelling by a series of images. There are no rules. It is about you seeing and reacting in a moment of time.

There are many known photographers; Gary Winogrand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and less mentioned but one of my favorites, Robert Doisneau who gave us thousands of frozen whimsical moments. And more recently, an unknown master discovered at an auction with the sale of discovered negatives (mostly medium format) named Vivian Maier. Vivian shows us that there are those of us that are less recognized but with talent that religiously and passionately snap random acts in public places. Her work is simply phenomenal. I am now studying her work. You can read more about Vivian here at this link, http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

Street Scene from Vivan Maier in Chicago

Street Scene from Vivian Maier in Chicago

Taking a Nap by Vivian Maier

I could sit here and write as many do about technical composition, geometry of the framing and other things that quite honestly I would rather save for another time for those that may be interested. The truth be told is that I just love looking at and studying the works of those that are famous and of work of those that are well I guess like me to gain different ideas and perspective. When I shoot those random street moments I shoot both digitally and by film. For a little of my personal perspective, I will share a bit of perspective when I shoot film.

I purchased my first proper camera in 1977. It was a Canon AE-1. Before that though, I was stationed with the USAF at King Salmon Air Force Station, Alaska. Besides protecting the air against the Russians (cold war was still on) among the few things one could do at a remote station was use the hobby shop dark room. So, before I even began shooting with that proper camera, I started assisting this old crusty sergeant in the dark room mixing chemicals and developing his film. Not long after he introduced me to shooting with his camera a Mamyia 645. I was privileged I think to be indoctrinated into photography in this way. I was hooked from there.

I am not hooked on any one type or style of photography. Unlike music, I like it all. If I travel to scenic locations I shoot lots of landscape stuff. If I am more urban, which I mostly am I shoot lots of street. I use several types of black and white film. Primarily though, I have been using lots of Ilford XP2. It is a chromogenic film that is C-41 processed which means it is processed the same as color film that anyone can process cheaply at the drug store or Costco. I mainly like it because it is cheap and you can get it developed pretty easily. You will find many folks who have bad things to say about this film. I could care less. Use what floats your boat and forget about ridiculous opinions.

I like shooting with film because I am thinking more. In my Leica M4 I mainly use a handheld light meter to measure light unlike a digital camera where it figure out everything for you. Doing this make one think more. You have to set manually shutter speed and aperture. Your brain has to work fast so you can capture great shots. Sometimes you don’t trust the meter because there is a mix of lights and darks so you compensate. There is 35 years of experience behind the thought  of it all. And even after 35 years do I think I am an expert! No! So, Let me show you a few:

Java Man

Initially, I saw a boxer. I have a fondness for boxers. I recently put my pet boxer down after 12 years. I just plain ole love boxers. Yep, that is what I saw initially until “Java Man” walked into the scene. In his left had he is carrying two cups of coffee. Not one but two! Why? Who in the heck knows. You could say he was on his way home from Star Bucks. It is about 30 feet away and to the left across the street. No doubt you can see he is on a mission. Besides the coffee he has a rolled up Sunday newspaper (yep it was taken on a Sunday). So, I know he is on a mission. He is on his way to sit and read the paper. What is the young man sitting on the bench thinking? What is his loyal boxer thinking? Who really knows. Only you can make your own conclusions! This is the beauty of taking a random act photo (RAP for short).

Pat Down

How did I come across this scene? Just like any other. I hear lots of commotion. The civilian to the right was a loud mouth. His buddy to the left was scared straight. Both had a bit to drink but the little guy on the right was a loud mouth and causing a disturbance. The police began a simple pat down on the guy on the right as he was talking to him. I took a few shots and left. As I was there though, I could not help but wonder about the police officer to the left straddling his bicycle. He took no defensive position. He appeared uninterested as you see in the image. One guy in the background looks on. I wonder what he is thinking. What about the two civilians with the officers? Who are they? What is their story? Where are they from? Do they have a job? Do they work at Microsoft? Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover!

Standing Tall

I could not resist taking this one. A horse patrol officer looking up and sitting tall on his trusted steed. What is he looking at? Me? No, I am to stealth, not that it matters for this one. As I look at this I am wondering about the tourist to the left snapping one-off. He’s taking a shot of the ass end. Can you believe it? Or is he shooting at the market across the street? I haven’t a clue but, if I had to guess I think he’s shooting the horse and officer. I like that it is an everyday scene in Seattle. People conversing. People strolling. What is going on here? Make up your own story. Give it your own twist? That is the beauty of taking a random photo.

There are lots of way you can approach taking a random photo. Oh yeah, there are some rules. These rules are more opinions of others who have the same passion as I. They love and feel connected to people and what happens randomly on any street corner, anywhere, anytime. If you have an old 35mm lying around or you need to dust off your digital then do it man! Do it now! Get connected with everyday life in your own way and your own time. You don’t have to take photos from 100 miles away. Get in the scene. Be part of it. It is up to you!

Aim High!

Pete

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