The Photographer of New York

One of the benefits of having a blog is that you can use it to introduce your readers to interesting people whom they might not have known about previously. Today it is Berenice Abbott, an American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography, born on July 17, 1898. She learned photography from Man Ray in Paris during the 1920s, returned to American to become the photographer of New York City according to some folks,and taught at the New School for Social Research for over 20 years. She died at the age of 93 in 1991.

Read more about this strong-willed, independent, pioneer of modern photography here, while this site claims to be the official Berenice Abbott archive.

Does not the very word ‘creative’ mean to build, to initiate, to give out, to act – rather than to be acted upon, to be subjective? Living photography is positive in its approach, it sings a song of life – not death.”

– Berenice Abbott

Whether it is a photograph or on film, I’m a sucker for black and white. For certain subjects, the stark images are more compelling, and without the color to distract, it is easier to concentrate on the image. Orson Welles once called B&W “the actor’s best friend” because he felt actors gave better performances in black and white, for it allowed more focus on the actor’s expressions as he or she emoted.

Today, several of Berenice Abbott’s most notable photos:

Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan - 1935
Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan – 1935
Brooklyn Bridge 1933
Brooklyn Bridge 1933
Children at a fair 1967
Children at a fair 1967
Jean Cocteau with a gun 1926
Jean Cocteau with a gun 1926
Share

Autumn Evening

The first evening of Autumn: beautiful twilight but I missed seeing the satellite flash across the southern sky. This view is Northwest, toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean.

Surprised By Evening

There is unknown dust that is near us,
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill,
Trees full of birds that we have never seen,
Nets drawn down with dark fish.

The evening arrives; we look up and it is there,
It has come through the nets of the stars,
Through the tissues of the grasses,
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.

The day shall never end we think;
We have hair that seems born for the daylight;
But, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise,
And our skin shall see far off, as it does under water.

Robert Bly

Share

“In every human heart, there is a Symphony of Nature”

A couple of weeks ago I went with a friend to The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. It’s a private nonprofit collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington. He was a railroad magnate and among his many holdings and operations were the famous “Red Car” trolleys here in Los Angeles.

Since our interest that day was on the Botanical Gardens, we just breezed through the library at the end. The collection is rather eclectic. Apparently, it’s the only library in the world with the first two quartos of Hamlet. They also have the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a Gutenberg Bible on vellum, the manuscript of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, the first seven drafts of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America. And then to show that they’re not snobbish when it comes to literature, there’s a collection of manuscripts and first editions of works by Charles Bukowski.

We didn’t see any of that stuff. We did check out Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, though. When Huntington purchased it for $700,00 in 1921, it became the second most expensive painting in the world. Number One was da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Neither are even in the Top Ten Today.

But we went The Huntington to stroll through the gardens and they’ve got more than a dozen of them, including the Desert Garden, with more cacti than you can shake a stick at; the Japanese Garden, with a Zen rock garden and a bevy of bonsai trees; a beautiful Rose Garden; and the Liu Fang Yuan or “Garden of Flowering Fragrance.”

It was a typical June Gloom day with grey skies overhead, but that didn’t stop me from taking beaucoup photos. Today, I’ll just share three. You can see the rest at my photo site here. The text is from “A Chinese Garden of Serenity” translated by Chao Tze-chiang.

In every human heart, there is a Symphony of Nature . . .

Natural scenery – such as the azure mists on the hills, the ripples on the water, the shadow of a cloud on a pond . . . all of which are existent and yet non-existent, half-real and half-unreal – is the most agreeable to the human heart and most inspiring to the human soul. Such vistas are the wonder of wonders in the universe.

When the wind blows through the scattered bamboos, they do not hold its sound after it has gone . . . So the mind of the superior man begins to work only when an events occurs; and it becomes a void again when the matter ends.

A drop of water has the tastes of the water of the seven seas; there is no need to experience all the ways of worldly life. The reflections of the moon on one thousand rivers are from the same moon: the mind must be full of light.


Share

Jacaranda Time

Severe weather is still pounding the Midwest. The videos of these tornadoes are awe-inspiring, just as the scenes of the devastation they leave behind are heartbreaking.

Here in Southern California we’ve had unseasonably cool temperatures and unusual wet weather, but the last few days that’s changed and it’s beginning to feel more like spring. And since it’s May, that means it’s Jacaranda time.

I don’t believe the Jacaranda mimosifolia or Blue jacaranda we have here are native. From what I understand they originated in South America and were transplanted. Jacarandas are a bit like cherry blossoms in that they drop from the trees almost as soon as they bloom.  The Jacarandas tend to drop slower, though, and some blossoms stick for up to two months, while cherry blossoms are normally gone within two weeks.

To me, both  represent the transient nature of life.

Here are some photos I took yesterday of the big jacaranda tree down the street from me. You can click on them for a larger view. And I have more photos of the jacarandas, from a previous year, here.

It is precisely
because all is transient
that even mute trees
put forth blossoms in the springtime
and in autumn shed brown leaves.

Otomo no Yakamochi (718?-785)

One cannot rely
on things to stay as they are –
for on the morrow
this day we call today
will be called yesterday.

Monk Saigyo (1118-1190)

While I gazed out,
barely conscious that I too
was growing old,
how many times have blossoms
scattered on the spring wind?

Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241)

Well one may wish –
but will those who have parted
return once again?

Late into the evening,
mountains where blossoms fall.

Bishop Shinkei (1406-1475)

Share

At long last . . . Rainbows

We’ve had five days of continuous rain here in Southern California. During this period if it quit raining it was only for five or ten minutes at a time. I can’t remember when it has rained this persistently for so long. Maybe a decade ago.

You’ve probably heard the old saying: It never rains in Southern California. It’s not true, of course. But it almost is. Often we can go from April to October with nary a drop. Personally, I get tired of sun all the time. I relish a cloudy day and if it rains too, wow, what a treat.

Fortunately for me, the rain hasn’t caused a big problem. Except that I couldn’t (and didn’t) want to go out in it because I am still recovering from cataract surgery and not supposed to get water in my eye. But it has wreaked havoc and caused suffering for many in the area.

Today a whopper of a storm swooped in. Torrential downpours, thunder and lighting – the whole bit. And then, in the late afternoon . . . the sun finally made an appearance, and for once I was rather glad to see it. But there was still some rain falling and whaddya know . . . a double rainbow.

Here’s one of the pictures I took:

You can see the others here.

Share