Friday, May 13, 2016

Ain't It The Truth!

Uhhhhh... yup.    Photo: © S. Banos

Sometimes (sometimes) as I wonder about on my lifelong quest to avoid stepping on used needles and dubious piles of excrement, I'm actually rewarded with a smile, a word of wisdom, or... both.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Spring Time Photography in San Francisco

Some really good stuff (as in photo exhibits) are to be found in San Francisco right now and into June- and three of those exhibits are to be found in one building! In no particular order, there's Ai Wei Wei's series of finger photographs, where he flips the bird to pretty much the entire world in a long series of photographs covering the entire length of a long gallery wall at The Haines Gallery. I know, doesn't sound like much (agreed)- but surprisingly, they work better than expected, and quite a few work quite well on their own. The one at the Eiffel Tower with the red sleeve is quite beautiful indeed. Never gave much thought to Ai Wei Wei till I saw the documentary Never Sorry, and ever since... much respect.

Photos: Ai Wei Wei

Then there's the "classic" B&W work of conceptual photographer Kenneth Josephson at The Robert Koch Gallery. Any kind of conceptual art is a long shot at best in my book, but those rare times when it does in fact work can be enlightening and quite... fun!

Photo: Kenneth Josephson

Photo: Christian Marclay
And speaking of fun and conceptual (photographic) art... The Fraenkel Gallery is featuring some wicked "slide shows" (for lack of a better term) by one Christian Marclay. One features a succession of square format images of single straws poking through their plastic container lids. Before you take in the whole image image, you are introduced to another, and another, and another... Definitely more visually compelling than most, static grid presentations. And while that leaves ya with a smile on your face, the next coupla typologies accelerate the experience well into warp drive! A Q-tip is centered in square format as the backgrounds rapidly change by the hundreds while the Q-tips furl and unfurl, first left then right, gently seesawing in progression. Yes, it's one very hypnotic, drug induced meditation- same goes for the cigarette butt that lengthens and shortens, shortens and lengthens as it rolls around without ever leaving its rapidly changing center stage. And there are others...

Photo: McNair Evans

Finally, right in the basement of San Francisco City Hall itself, one can find the work of Guggenheim Fellow McNair Evans and his travels on Amrtack called In Search Of Great Men. This is what making the most out of whatever your dealt truly means as Mr. Evans proceeds to do just just that, photographing a myriad of  interesting: portraits, still lifes and landscapes taken in or from the various trains and their immediate environs. Be sure to also visit upstairs where some of his photographs have been handsomely blown up wall size, adorning what is already a pretty impressive building interior...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Day! May Day!

Thomas Morton

Like punk, May Day originated in the good ol' USA, before it became all the rage and celebrated in many a country abroad as the true worker's holiday. Unfortunately, it was quashed, neutered and then repurposed in the country of its origin to suit the powers that be. Workers' Day demoted to yet another sales holiday, in September- want fries with that?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sound Advice

Take it from someone who... can't do it very well.       Photo: © S. Banos

I did do it once, swim that is. Kids always ask, "You know how to swim?" And I would always reply, "Yes, of course." Like who wouldn't? And technically, I was being quite truthful- I did know... I just couldn't do it very well, if at all. I knew what I had to do, and how to do it- but like most other things physical, I was damn shitty at it. I was very familiar with the forward sweeping motion of the arms and the repeated paddling of the legs in a coordinated movement that thrusts the body aloft in a steady forward momentum; saw it countless times in books, movies, even in person even- could say I was practically expert in how it was done... but damn if I could actually do it! It took all my effort just to keep my mouth sucking in precious oxygen one quarter inch above water while the rest of my body inexplicably remained at a 45 degree angle rapidly going nowhere no matter how hard I tried. Naturally, I never wandered more than a few inches away from anywhere I couldn't readily stand up.

But there's always that one day, that one day where all the artifice must fall and your soul laid bare... And on that day I found myself with a friend and some of his acquaintances, who had since moved upstate (New York), on the way to the local watering hole. The "conversation" rapidly devolved into a mockery of how city boys couldn't swim and the inevitable, "You know how to swim, right?" "Sure do," I truthfully replied, wondering all the while how the hell I was gonna get outta this one.

And I was still pondering that very thought as we all plunged in, putting into play my vast encyclopedic knowledge of all things swimming. The group objective was to reach a water slide on the... far side of the lake, a goal well beyond ridiculous for me to even contemplate as I nevertheless huffed and puffed along as if, as if reality had no say in any of it.

My epiphany soon occurred about 1/10 of the way there when my subpar, labored thrashing about forced me to the realization that this fool's errand would guarantee I never make it to seventeen. The others had already pulled ahead by this time, and left quite alone, knew it would be a minor miracle if I could even make it back to shore. I felt a wave of panic start to descend, and I wanted to scream in fright and anger for being so stupid to have put myself in such a predicament. As an adult, I would have simply said, "Go off and enjoy yourself young lads while I quietly engage this good book in the company of this fine drink." As a dumb ass kid, all I could do at the moment was recall reading that after the initial panic- drowning was indeed, a rather genteel manner to die, a rather peaceful and euphoric affair towards the end.

Perhaps not wanting to die in a watery grave with virtue intact provided the necessary incentive, but right there and then I resolved to live another day, focus like I never had in my previous sixteen years, and turn the ship back to shore where I would continue to pursue the life of a happy landlubber the rest of my godforsaken years. Which is somehow exactly what I (barely) succeeded in doing.

A couple of hours later, everyone returned and someone asked if I was OK, "You don't look too good!" Don't quite remember what I replied, but I do remember telling myself- I don't give a bloody damn what anyone says or thinks (of me) anymore...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ricoh GR B&W Conversion

Photo: © S. Banos

Well, it just had to, had to happen- didn't it? It just had to rear it's ugly, uncalled for, utopia dissolving head, and shatter this delightful delusion of unfettered color fantasy, ie- I finally hit upon an image that looks better in B&W, an image that originated in digital color- the day of reckoning had arrived.

Don't even know if this image is a keeper as of yet (in any form), a decision made all the harder since one of the reasons I got this camera was to make images that weren't exactly like my analog photographs. But no doubt it works better in B&W, those bright orange pants and screaming red umbrella (nice as they are) completely detract from the main focal point of the image- the subject's thousand yard stare. So into Elements 9 I descended, messed with the color channels, and... Not bad! Looks kinda decent, due very much to the fact that it's taken in open shade and maybe, just maybe, by ISO 800 lending a certain "granularity." A bit more contrast, and local dodging and burning (interesting how much more B&W files of any kind must be pampered and massaged towards the same end) and it stands up fairly well. Now, do I like it as a whole- and will there be more conversions to follow that will be any the more acceptable (particularly those in direct sunlight)... Or this an evolutionary dead end?

Photo: © S. Banos

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Wonderful World Of Color!

If you'd told me this January that I'd be posting a page of color photographs on my website this spring, I woulda told ya you had a few pixels missing. Cornball jokes aside, in the midst of restoring 40 years of B&W, this was not even a possibility, let alone a consideration- or is that the other way around? Regardless, life is funny sometimes. 

True, last year I did take a few color photos, but that was with full intention of converting to B&W. And it's not just about color, it's about trying to capture those things I've been passing up for many a year with a new medium, a new manner of shooting and a focal length (28mm equivalent) that I haven't used regularly since my twenties. The website photos are people-centric, but I'm enjoying "other stuff" as well, serious or not. I've accustomed myself to seeing the world in a certain way photographically- literally through a certain lens. Not necessarily a bad thing, it helps select and organize the wheat from the chaff, but it can also limit and restrict what and how you see. Even at my age, it does a guy good to: 1) Stop, 2) shake shit around, 3) see what falls out. In that order. Or maybe, I was just waiting for the right tool, or the right excuse- just hope I didn't wait too long...

El Pendejo Donald     Photo: © S. Banos

Monday, April 11, 2016

Funny Shit...

Another goddang work week, and we all need a few cheap laughs. Hopefully, you won't have seen all of these. In the first, Governor Rick The Dick Scott gets a righteous earful of truth to power- and inexplicably (but all too predictably) most Right Wing douche bag commenters rush to his... defense (although one commenter did describe him as an elongated testicle).

And from local to national politics...

Finally, what's a few laughs between friends w/o a little racial humor...

Friday, April 8, 2016

Lesson Learned

So I notice this guy walk out unto the main drag looking behind him as if possibly being followed. He has a small orange traffic cone in hand, and sure enough, another guy appears behind him with a... wooden paddle in hand. It appears Guy #1 took the cone from Guy #2 who is now in pursuit, as Guy #1 proceeds to tease him with said cone. 

Photo: © S. Banos
Broken paddle handle under gloved contestant. And why does he have rubber gloves on anyway?

At this point I'm thinking cone guy has some grand plan up his sleeve that involves rapid flight response, impressive (fight) skills or perhaps some genius comedic turn around. None of the above was in the offing however, as now infuriated paddle guy raises, swings and literally breaks it over the head of his nemesis. A bloody skirmish ensues, and is fortunately broken up by the cop above who just happened to be writing out a summons nearby....

Moral: I never realized the middle of Market St. was painted red till I photographed it in color (hides blood well too).

Friday, April 1, 2016

100% Natural

Photo: © S. Banos

Hey, I coulda easily made something up like so many other places, considering the date and all, and just thrown it up for a cheap laugh. But you don't come here for that, we got scruples and stuff- and I got a brand to uphold.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

OK, OK- I Take It Back...

You know, the part where I go on and on about how much I hate that tiny, dark, next to worthless screen on my new camera. Well...

Photo: © S. Banos

There I was in the middle of the street in the midst of some truly gorgeous light, slowly inching my way forward till I stood right before this guy as he was looking every which way with my thing camera hanging out in front of me for all the world to see. Of course, I knew he would eventually catch on and charge me in a hail of cussing and commotion, but inch on I did, angling and framing best I could, since a posed portrait would have likely lost all life and spontaneity. Nevertheless, I was readying contingency Plan B on the first forward step, "Excuse me sir, I was wondering if I could take your..." And in the midst of all my frettin' and a fussin'- it dawned on me that I had already, instinctively fired the shutter. The deed was done! A veritable impossibility with an all too conspicuous SLR had been successfully realized and accomplished with relative ease! Up until that instant, I had looked upon the lowly LCD screen as little more than a barely tolerable hindrance; now I realized how that minuscule screen complemented the GR's overall stealth, also making it... very much the asset.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

3 Must Get, Must Get Books

Ryann Ford- The Last Stop

All three of these books document things that are pretty much no longer there, things from our collective past.  And although digital photography may be all about the instantaneous sharing of all that is brand spanking new and however fleetingly unique, the major strength of photography remains as it's forever been- its ability to freeze, capture and immortalize time. It's ability to now traverse the globe in seconds time is truly remarkable, but nothing compared to its original mission; a mission it continues to retain and faithfully complete, no matter how forgotten. And these three books remind us all of its inherent power to transcend generations young and old, analog and subsequent.

Chris Killup- In Flagrante Two

One book is an absolute classic that is being reissued. Another taken at roughly the same period is being published for the first time for all the world to see. And even the latest color offering testifies to monuments of time and lifestyle forever lost.

Christine Osinski- Summer Days Staten Island

Chris Killup is the kind of photographer that can do everything well (very)- portraits, landscapes, and everything in between. He's at his peak with In Flagrante Two; hard to find a mediocre shot in the entire essay. Summer Days Staten Island is yet another paean to the glories of B&W, as Christine Osinski searches for the heart, soul and underbelly of that fifth, and forever forgotten borough of NYC. Finally, Ryann Ford's The Last Stop is one living color tribute to the democratic art and architecture that formed America's once unique and memorable roadside rest stops.

Friday, March 11, 2016


It's over two hours long and you're free to make of it... what-you-will. Many will consider it but a compilation of every "conspiracy" theory imaginable, from: free energy and UFO's, to our collapsing environment and The New World Order. The production values vary and it can be a tad "new Agey" at times, but keep in mind this is a man born to privilege, groomed for power and success, who mixed and hobnobbed with the monied elite. Some will dismiss it out of hand, others as the food for thought that it is...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

GR Update...

Yellow & White-  Photo: © S. Banos
No color, no photo; also like how the shadow partly obscures his face.

After my initial, short lived brush with beginner's luck, I immediately became both anxious and apprehensive- was the GR going to be just a simple snapshot vehicle for small curiosities (as with the two photos in previous posts), with only the rare out of character shot of something striving for more? Or was it going to be an instrument with which one could take consistently "serious" images as well? The only way to find out, of course, was to keep shooting...

Been a coupla weeks now, and it's been predictably frustrating at times, bust mostly quite productive and... fun! This analog dog is shooting in a completely foreign manner (ie- phone style), with a very foreign device (a digital recording mechanism), utilizing a very foreign medium. And I've also discovered I was wrong on several fronts. 

Valentine-  Photo: © S. Banos
"You a cop?" "Do I look like one? This was the much needed 2nd shot that confirmed the GR was indeed a serious imaging device.

First, size does matter; it is considerably easier to shoot on the street with a smaller, less conspicuous camera- particularly one that resembles the same basic size and dimensions of today's average, common place cell phone. I am now getting images that I wouldn't have with my SLR- does that mean that photographers haven't been getting similar images with say... analog rangefinders? Course not. Just saying that I am now getting images that I wouldn't have previously with my old Nikons. Part of that is also because I am now shooting with a 28mm (e), and (more importantly) I no longer have to manually focus (or even prefocus), or set exposure as before. That (to a large extent) frees one to concentrate on composing on that ridiculously small and dim viewing screen- which despite the difficulty (and my age addled eyes), can be achieved with regular practice and consistency.

Black Sweater-  Photo: © S. Banos
The sound of an SLR shutter directly behind her, and she would have been up and screaming bloody stalker, pervert galore!!!

Setbacks I've encountered include sometimes forgetting to set the proper shutter speed or ISO (don't wish to go full auto)- and sometimes my general disdain for said viewing screen makes me want to forgo the concentration necessary to ensure proper composition (when not shooting from the hip). But if I respect this wonderfully minuscule and capable device, it often rewards me with some pleasingly surprising results. The less than FF sensor still allows for crisp images and shadow detail, and the greater DOF is handy on the street. The lens performs even wide open and I'm enjoying shooting color for the first time in decades... Easily securing it in your jacket pocket sure beats lugging an SLR around on your shoulder- and it's near weightless within the confines of a camera bag. Now I'm scared they'll stop making the damn things, or make them bigger, or they'll be bought off by Hasselblad and sold for 3 grand a piece with giant, hand carved, wooden hand grips...

Shepard of Market St.-  Photo: © S. Banos

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Shit Stain

Photo: © S. Banos

Well, what else could I possibly follow up with after a jar o' pee- not that I have any definitive proof, mind ya. After all these many years of solemn, sullen monochrome, I'm just seduced by all these vivid, vibrant colors- golden urine yellows, earthy fecal browns... Maybe there's a typography to be had here; the one on used doggie bags got quite the attention just a few years back. This could just be my ticket to photographic fame and immortality!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Which Would You Choose!?!?

This is one of Life's toughies- no hints, no clues... ya just gotta man up, steel your resolve and hope for the best!

Photo: © S. Banos

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Pride And Cost Of Techdom

Photo: © S. Banos

The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day."
 -Justin Keller
There is some kernel of truth in what Mr. Keller says- the homeless population in San Francisco has reached insanely ridiculous levels... and it has remained so for at least the fifteen years I've lived here. It was made more than blatantly obvious this past Christmas season (ya know, that time when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of their homeless god) when many a native was outta town and its major streets were left with what appeared to be an SRO crowd of homeless street inhabitants milling about en masse in post apocalyptic, zombie, sci-fi fashion. I-kid-you-not.

Of course, there's a myriad of explanations as to why this continues to be such a plague in this tale of two cities. But computer avatar Keller chooses to simply place all the blame on the homeless themselves. Case closed, problem solved- jail 'em, ship 'em out, and crucify the whole bloody lot if all else fails...

Actually, some of San Francisco's homeless denizens are in fact shipped in from other cities (eg- Las Vegas). But even those numbers are but a fraction of the total that compromise the walking wounded and their cardboard/tent encampments that can be seen throughout certain portions of the city. Many of these people clearly exhibit mental health problems and/or long term drug dependency issues. And this country's major answer to both those problems are twofold: a) have them wander the streets until they're finally... b) incarcerated.

Those with mental disorders  have been increasingly incarcerated during the past three decades, probably as a result of the deinstitutionalization of the state mental health system. Correctional institutions have become the de facto hospitals, and there are more seriously and persistently mentally ill in prisons than in all the state hospitals in the United States.

Photo: © S. Banos
Long term, drug rehab/mental health programs are every bit as critical to solving the homeless situation, as the lack of living wage jobs and affordable housing. Of that there is little doubt or argument. These common sense solutions for this ongoing plague are both proven and effective, should anyone, anywhere care to seriously employ them to the degree needed.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee insists the multi-million dollar tax incentives these software giants and start ups have received are offset by the extra income trickling down to this fair city, while: Google, FB and Genentech buses crowd public bus stops to ferry their private passengers to and fro in luxury; the giant block long Twitter citadel on Market St. remains a totally self contained and self serving bastion of exclusion from the neighborhood beneath its unbreachable walls; and the community give backs for those massive tax incentives remain the cosmetic, unkept promises they were always meant to be. Meanwhile, longstanding residents and neighborhood businesses continue to be booted out to make room for their high end "needs."

San Francisco rent has skyrocketed to obscene levels. Median rent in San Francisco is over $3,000 a month, with some neighborhoods in the $4,000-$5,000 range. Average rent is in the same range. 

So what is the viable alternative to self serving twits like Justin Keller- socially involved and emphatic human beings like... Justin Keller

Photo: © S. Banos

Monday, February 22, 2016

It's A GReat World

The Ricoh GR is incredibly, almost unbelievably compact- well built, like some kind of rare, precious object, and the quality one can squeeze from this diminutive operator is near legendary. It certainly doesn't supply the classic camera, tactile satisfaction, but being the rather unique creature it truly is, it nicely creates its own individual user aura. And because of that nearly non existent environmental signature- you want to (and can) take it everywhere!.

Photo: © S. Banos

Frankly, I detested the very thought of having to compose on a tiny 3 inch screen; it's hard enough trying to make sense of 'em in the best of light with glasses on- what chance does one possibly have in real world circumstances!?!? Easy it ain't; that still doesn't mean it can't be done... and the photo up top proves it.

I was left eyed all my life- until ten years ago when I developed floaters in that eye. It made focusing difficult- easier to change what side you bat from, what hand you throw and write with! Nevertheless, I was forced to adapt, and adapt I did. It certainly wasn't overnight, but with time and practice- I've been a right eyed shooter for several years now with no ill consequence.

Likewise, I was always a manual exposure, full control kinda guy; with the GR, I set the shutter speed and let the autofocus and other bells and whistles that I configured do what they do, while I concentrate fully on somehow trying to position that 3 inch rectangle. Problem solved? Yes and no. Not perfect by any means, but that selfie photo was done on the quick, in very BRIGHT light and is every bit as well composed as if I had done it on my F3. Beginner's luck? Believe it!!! I was damn lucky to get that shot on the second day with the camera, shooting in a completely foreign manner- and I'm sure there'll be many a cussing shit fit yet to come on many another occasion... Right now though, it seems almost magical that despite the odds- sharp, colorful, well exposed images manage to regularly pop up.

The GR opens some doors, while making you you jiggle the lock on others- you accommodate to it, learn its strengths and let it "free" you, or spend your time wallowing in its shortcomings. Why am I so much more forgiving of the GR than the full featured XT-1? Because: A) This was never meant to be a "do everything" camera, and B) It's near supernatural portability is, in fact, it's greatest technological feature and asset. Also, unlike the XT-1, where I was shooting similarly to my analog SLR (except with a crappy EVF that made shooting outside less satisfactory in every way), the GR forces one to use the LCD screen (a la Avedon shooting with his 8X10), or shoot from the hip- you can't condemn it for what it wasn't made to do; either way, people are less threatened by it since it shoots and looks as much phone as camera. Some photographers can't handle the 28mm coverage (too wide), I've been married to a 20, so it's a change for me as well, if from the other direction. But shooting in color with a 28mm isn't that bad for me, being that color adds so much more information- and that combo kinda worked out well for that Eggleston fellow as I recall...

Photo: © S. Banos

Must say, the add-on (3rd party) OVF makes it! Accurate? Hell, that cheap ass piece o'plastic'll give ya a goddamn headache if ya even think of looking through it!

This time round, I'm not particularly looking to make B&W files from digital, and although I've read the GR renders B&W well- when I specifically want B&W, I'll make certain to pack the Tri-X. One thing's for damn sure though, it takes well under a half an hour to process most color files! Having devoted myself to B&W most my life, I'm not at all well versed with color temperature, hues, etc, and am very happy to even go full, all out, auto color correction in Elements (again, see above). That's the other real world of difference, equal if not more so than the actual shooting experience- minutes for color in post vs days for (getting the tonal values just so in) B&W. That is truly miraculous!