Sunday, April 27, 2014


I shot photos at the abandoned Solvay Coke Plant, on Milwaukee's south side, on a number of occasions in 2013.  I "enjoyed" not just the plant's overall decrepitude but the array of litter and graffiti that it offered.  Driving by the site later last year, I had noted a significant amount of construction activity on the site, and I was concerned that the buildings--or at least what was left of them--were going to be razed in anticipation of the redevelopment of this notable Superfund site.  This last week I paid my first visit of 2014 to the location and was relieved (I think) to find that the construction equipment was gone and that the buildings were still standing.  So I took a few more shots of what has become a familiar venue.

Here first is a "grand" shot of the factory's largest space, essentially a three-story high room that is absolutely littered with junk.

It was a sunny day, and the light streaming through the doorway in the lower left was confusing my camera's autoexposure system.  In the end, I decided to let the door go overexposed in order to expose adequately the remainder of the space.  For this shot, I set the aperture at a narrow f/16 to maximize depth of field and set the autoexposure system to slow the shutter speed by the equivalent of one f-stop (to 1/2 second) in order to override the reading from the light of the open doorway.  For whatever reason, I shot this image vertically, but I think it would have been more effective to have shot it horizontally.

Graffiti artists are continually revisiting this location, and there was a fair amount of new graffiti since my last visit some 8 or 9 months ago.  Here is one of those.

Papa Smurf, maybe?

The following really features two different graffiti on separate walls, one behind the other.

And here is a well done graffito outside the building that I have shot before.  Still like its artistry.

One of the things I am trying to do is to create better context in my shots.  This has been a failure for me, and I'm afraid that the above shots illustrate that deficiency.  I thought I did a better job with the following photos.  In this first photo I had been working on some shots that featured just the openings on the left, and then I noticed the interesting graffito on the wall to the right and decided to combine the two points of interest in a single shot.

In this next shot, I had been focusing just on the graffito in the right portion of the image.  And then I realized that including the stairway/ladder in the image might tell a better story.

The same can be said for the shots I took of the junk littering the floor.  Initially, I had thought to take a shot just of the boot in the following photo but then realized that incorporating more of the industrial detritus might add something.  Not pretty, but perhaps that was the point.

The same can be said for the shot of the metal spring in the following photo.

Finally, what caught my eye was a paint brush full of dried vivid green paint (obviously used by a graffiti artist).  Here I should have included more "context."  In an attempt to make up for that, in post processing I decided to focus on the green paint by setting all of the other colors to zero saturation, essentially converting the image into a black & white except for the green paint.

The brush is resting on some sort of shattered glass fixture.  Just a fun shot.

This abandoned site, perhaps 75 yards off a dead-end road in an industrial area, is, frankly, creepy, and I finally decided that I had had enough . . . until next time.


Saturday, April 26, 2014


Walker's Point is an older neighborhood on Milwaukee's near south side.  It is diverse both culturally and in terms of property use and is slowly undergoing an economic revival.  A lot of the shops are, well, quirky and present interesting photo opportunities, and last week I spent an hour or so walking around with my camera, something I had done a number of times last summer.

Here are a couple of shots of storefronts.

I actually took a few shots of this second story window before realizing that if I shifted my position a little to the right I could eliminate most of the reflections that were plaguing the window, allowing the little white ghost to show up better.  A lesson about working the shot.

Note the signs in this tavern window.

I think this place was only a couple of doors away from another bar with the name Walker's Pint.  Clever.

Jeremy Novy is a street artist who recently relocated to San Francisco but not before gracing Milwaukee with any number of stenciled graffiti of koi.  I ran a cross a few in Walker's Point and caught this shot of one of them.  Simple and graceful, I thought.

I wound up being a little dissatisfied with this shot, not for its technical quality but for its composition.  I would have preferred having more negative space around the graffito.  Alternatively, there were actually a number of koi on this exterior wall of peeling paint, and I could have figured out how to include more koi in the shot.  I will need to go back, I think.

We're all familiar with the metal plates that are anchored into sidewalks at points where it is sloping down to street level to accommodate those in wheelchairs.  I had always thought that the plates, which all feature a similar pattern of raised knobs, were intended to provided added traction on sloped surfaces.  But I have been informed by a knowledgeable party that they are actually intended primarily to provide warning to blind persons of a change of slope.

On our recent visit to Austin, we attended an art festival one of the featured photographers of which included a nicely framed photograph of one of these plates.  His was a bit more interesting--and cleaner--but I thought, what the heck.  I picked this one for its unusual color.  Again, I intend to play a little more with this subject.

On my walk I also ran across a more than 50 year old Chevy truck that at some point had undergone restoration and painting with a rust colored primer.  Here's one of the detail shots I took that worked OK.

Following is a detail shot of a portion of a medallion for an overhead light fixture in the entryway for another Walker's Point bar.  (There are a large number of bars in Walker's Point.)

I have photographed this medallion previously but keep finding myself going back.

There wasn't much to the neon sign for the following bar (yes, another bar), so I decided to play around with the image a little, eliminating all color except the red of the neon.  Just OK, I thought.

Finally, here is the stark and frankly unattractive entryway of a nondescript industrial building.

I actually like this photo.  The composition's redeeming quality, if there is one, is the series of concentric rectangles that it presents.  The siding is cheap and ugly, but the shadows the seams create add nicely to the texture, I think.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I thought I would wind up the posts for our stay in Austin with one of photos that I liked but that didn't find their way into any of the other posts on our trip.

These first few are black & white shots that could have been included in my post of Austin architecture, except that I took them on my last visit to Austin's downtown area, after I had already done a post on architecture.  The first is obviously a structural support for one of the bridges over Lady Bird Lake.

The next is of an older building in the downtown area.  The day was cloudy and I liked the way the light was being reflected in the 1960s(?) building's windows.

The third is of a stairway leading down a level from the pavilion at the front of the LBJ Library building.  An interesting abstract, I thought.

The following is of some park benches adjacent to the walking/running/biking trail that extends along the north side of Lady Bird Lake.

Speaking of benches, here is a shot of a couple outside the front entrance to the LBJ Library.  I liked the way that the reflections of the benches in the windows were dark, creating a sort of contrasting symmetry.

One of the last places we visited was the Zilker Botanical Gardens.  They were surprisingly extensive and offered a quiet interlude from the city's hurly-burly.  But I found them a little boring, actually.  However, I did like one of the wrought iron gates leading into the gardens.  These gates were obviously custom-made and were much larger than the portion I wound up shooting.  However, I was limited by the fact that I wanted to pose the dark of the wrought iron against the cloudy but light sky and only a small portion of the gate was available for that perspective.  Note the spider's web.

I liked this 6th Street nightclub neon sign for the way the light was being reflected off the nearby brick walls.

The following shot, of a musician on 6th Street, is very poor technically.  The light was poor; the musician was moving, causing motion blur; and there is minimal definition.  But I thought that the shot somehow caught nicely the spirit of the situation.

Finally, after having visited the Texas Capitol building four times, I finally visited the Texas Capitol Visitors Center, located just a half block south of the Capitol itself.  Turns out, I hadn't missed much.  But I did like the following serendipitous shot that featured a series of complementary arches.



If one defines public art as paintings and sculpture that is in public space available to whoever happens by, then Austin has its share--and perhaps more than its share--of public art.  I found plenty without really trying, some personal and some intended for broader consumption.

Here, without comment, are a few examples of two-dimensional pieces that caught my eye.

And then there were the three-dimensional sculptures that speak to Austin's reputation as a mecca for music.

I also liked this statue of a younger Willy Nelson.

But my favorite was the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn, located on the south side of Lady Bird Lake.

This first was taken on a cloudy, hazy morning, and I thought the image worked best as a black & white.  And here is a closeup, in color, of what I thought was the sculpture's most representative element, the musician's hand on the neck of his guitar.

And then there were the olives perched on the roof of a building.

Not sure what was going on, but, of course, Austin prides itself in behind weird.


Monday, April 14, 2014


Austin's primary art museum is actually part of the University of Texas system and is located on the university's campus.  The museum's facilities are relatively young, as is its art collection.  Here are some of the pieces that caught my attention.

First is a portion of a painting by Procaccini entitled, "The Visitation," c. 1602.

As is often the case, I found myself shooting only portions of many of the works, and that is true of the above shot, which was perhaps 20 times the size of this image.  But my feeling is that the overall work is often too large to give justice to the detail.  In this case I concentrated on the painting's key element--the supposed meeting between the expectant mothers, Mary and the much older mother of John the Baptist.

And here is a painting by Thomas Hart Benton, entitled "Romance," c. 1932.

I also liked the following piece by Reginald Marsh, called "Chatham Square."  The piece was done in 1931 and captures nicely, I think, the look and feel of the Depression era, of people who are making the most, at least emotionally, of a difficult time.  Again, this is a small portion of a much larger piece.

The following was a large piece by Mexican artist Siqueiros, entitled, appropriately, "George Gershwin in a Concert Hall," 1936.

Here is a small portion of the work.

Note the weird portrayal of the patrons behind the pianist.  I thought this was really quite an interesting work.

And then there were more abstract works, including a collection of thick, jagged chunks of slate that had been pieced together in a circle that was perhaps 25 feet across.  Unusual, but the overall effect had power.  It would have been impractical to attempt capturing the entire work, so I focused on a portion.  I took shots both on an oblique angle and from directly overhead.  I finally decided the oblique shots were more effective.

And, yes, the following, consisting of stacks of ceramic tiles, is actually a work of art.  At least it made an interesting abstract.

One of the more dramatic works consisted of four different components, a black gauze curtain that surrounded the entire work and that patrons were  invited to pass through, a large collection of cattle bones (yup, actual bones) hanging from the top, a string of communion wafers stretching from the center of the collection of bones to the floor, and a collection of thousands of pennies, all with the mint date of 2005, spread over the floor underneath the bones.  Here is a shot of the entire work.

And here is a shot of the bones.  The overhead lighting was critical to the overall effect.

Following is an airplane model that hung on one of the museum's wall.  It was relatively large, perhaps 6-8 feet across.  It helped that the model was randomly covered with metal butterflies.  Somehow, it worked.

One of the museum galleries was filled with various Greek and Roman statues, all of which were, oddly, replicas.  Later we understood why.  The gallery served as a space for budding artists to practice their skills.

But my favorite work/space in the museum was a large empty reception room off the museum's main entrance the walls of which were covered with tiles of subtly varying shades of light blue.  I took a large number of shots of the room in an attempt to capture the quality of the space.  In the end, I decided that the shots that incorporated the room's pillars worked best.

And, finally, the ceiling of this space consisted of accordion-shaped panels that included skylights that let in the light that was helping to flood the space.  Here are a couple of photos of the ceiling that I thought made interesting abstracts.

The Blanton museum needs to work on expanding and filling out its collection, but it has a great facility in which to do that.