Dances With Lions

Lion Dancer
Lion Dancer

No, this is not an introduction to a Kevin Kostner film about the Native American Indian experience. This is a photograph of the Asian American experience – Dances With Lions.

Last week Sunday, when I visited the egg cream/egg roll festival in Chinatown. I got exposed to cultural practices from both the Jewish and Chinese American communities. It was an exposure of music, food and religious practices. On Eldridge Street, the stalls were lined with pickles on one end and dumplings on the other. There were outdoor musical scores being played, first by the Chinese community and then later by the Jewish community accompanied by traditional dance.  However, the music that caught my attention was further away at a nearby park just of Canal Street.

I could not ignore the beating of the drum nor the beating of the cymbals. So with much curiousity, I made my way to the park where I observed a traditional Chinese Lion Dance being performed. It was just the sort of outdoor experience I was hoping for. I had always seen puppet shows performed on a small scale; This was the first I had seen it on a grand scale. Everything was well choreographed, the movement of the mouth, the winking of the eye, the synchronized movement of the legs. It was all well done. It was all accompanied by traditional Chinese music.

To some degree, I felt sorry for the performers.  It was 81 degree weather and it was sweltering. Consequently, the performers  could only do two performances with the costume on and it was later followed by uncovered performances. But, it was the covered performance which resulted in the photograph taken here.

As stated before, this was not a review of the movie Dances with Wolves. It is a post which was inspired by the merger of the Jewish and Chinese communities’  egg cream/egg roll festival. Although it was the egg cream/egg roll festival that attracted me to the city, it was the Dances with Lions which stole the show.

 

A Tale of Two Horses

A Tale of Two Horses
A Tale of Two Horses

The Sunday following my birthday I took a road trip into Upstate New York’s wine country, the Finger Lakes Region. The sun was out; There was a cool breeze; Everything was blooming. The experience was even much more entertaining as my friends in this adventure, Lynne and Joe, decided to go off road and take the more scenic routes. This placed us square into a lot of America’s farmland.  It was here that I saw the two horses which became the title of this post – A Tale of Two Horses.

The landscape was littered with barns, fields of corn, fields of cows, and stables. It was on passing one of many roadside stables that we paused to observe a solid black stallion. He was very active and was causing a commotion among the other horses. He became even more frantic when I ventured close to the enclosure. Consequently, as much as I wanted to capture him and his unique beauty, I couldn’t.

Instead, I saw two mares which were huddled to one side of the pen. I found them to be more cooperative than the stallion but it was clear they were agitated by his movements. I liked the fact that they were huddled together and I think that presented a unique composition that I probably would not have gotten at any other time. But shooting theses horses meant I had to work fast as I had another male to compete with. I took several shots but none captured the beauty or the spirit of the moment as the one I captured here. Yes, it was a frantic scene but for a few small seconds, things were calm and I was able to capture the two horses in a moment which I thought flattered them both. In my mind, I  captured them in what I believe is a very charismatic and yet a simple, elegant portrait

Sometimes, you don’t get what you set out for. Instead, life surprises you and you get something better, more intriguing, more distinct than you had experienced before. That is pretty much what happened in this trip to the finger lakes. Although I started out trying to capture a story about a single horse, a stallion. I ended up with a lovely, classical shot depicting a Tale of Two horses.

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding Hearts

Memorial Day was established as a day of reflection for those who died in the U.S. Civil War. However, it has expanded to recognize the soldiers who have lost their lives in other confrontations that the U.S. has engaged in.  Of course, for every soldier lost there is a grieving family. And, I could thing of nothing else which quickly and symbolically communicates their loss than the Bleeding Hearts flower.

As depicted in this post, the Bleeding Hearts is a flower which has an uncanny shape like a heart. And, as it matures, the pointed end of the flower peels back to expose a white, pointy, bud-like shaped part of the flower which resembles a tear drop. Thus, we have the bleeding heart.

Normally, these flowers can range from red to pink in colour and may have variations in between. Contradicting its otherwise upbeat mood, I selectively chose to remove the colour to communicate otherwise. Instead, I chose to emphasize the sadness of Memorial Day in recognition of the fallen.

So, in a less festive and more spiritual recognition of Memorial Day, I have made two variations of the Bleeding Hearts available free for download as desktop wallpapers – Bleeding Hearts Black & White and Bleeding Hearts Colour.  If you wish to receive a signed and dated print feel free to contact me for details. I only plan to produce 25 prints of either variant – colour or black and white.

Weeping Clown

Weeping Clown
Weeping Clown

On the same day I visited New York City and caught sight of the Naked Cowgirl, I also took notice of another odd character in the Times Square area. It was part Easter Bunny,  part clown and part man. So confusing was this character that I had no definitive way to describe him or it. In fact, it wasn’t until I caught him with the most depressed expression I had ever seen on a street performer that I chose to dub him the weeping clown.

At first glance, I thought he was one of the usual street performers dressed up as an Easter Bunny. After all, he head two protrusions jotting out of his head like bunny ears, a completely white costume, and although it is not apparent in my photo, a fuzzy, white, fluffy tail. To top of the illusion of a 5′ 6″ rabbit, he walked around with a 12 inch carrot in his hand. So, this was a bunny rabbit, right?  Well it got a little more confusing.

The costume was accentuated with a bright orange brief case which read – Clown ToTo. It wasn’t clear what the contents of the brief case was but it was kind of odd to have an Easter Bunny walking around with a briefcase. Further, under closer scrutiny, I realized that the protrusions on his head were merely balloons being masqueraded as ears.  Also, another unique characteristic of his costume was his shoes. They were the type only seen on cartoon characters due to their enormous size.  Oh and less I forget, there was also facial paint which was used to decorate the face.  Ok, so we now have several elements which suggest this was indeed a clown.

The last observation of this character was the expression.  The face of someone who has had a classical bad day and who’s expression only adds to the comical view of this character. An image that you can’t help but laugh at.

All together, there is no singular term which correctly describes this character. I myself may be wrong in  the description I have settled on. Is he a clown, an Easter Bunny, a man? Whichever one of these correctly describe him, I have chosen to refer to him as the weeping clown.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

April Showers Bring May Flowers
April Showers Bring May Flowers

April showers bring may flowers or so the saying goes. It is a common saying among persons in the English speaking world that marks the transition from April to May, from a month of rain to a month of blossoms. That is the thought that came to mind when I took the photo of this tulip right after the heavy rainfall experienced on April 30.

I had just arrived at work a day after some of the heaviest rainfall I had ever experienced on Long Island; I would say about three inches. Things were still pretty damp and the sun had not risen yet.  I took the time to walk the grounds with camera in hand and noticed a bed of tulips outside the office window.  The excessive rains from the previous day had weighed down the tulips causing them to lean over into the leaves at the bottom of their stems. Some had become contorted, and others had lost some of their petals, while others drew a beautiful contrast between their bright colours and the deep green folds of their leaves. The later was the concept I tried to capture in my photograph.

I chose to avoid the focus on the colour of the  elements in the scene but instead communicate the texture and form of those elements.  The folds of the leaves provide a somewhat painterly, dark backdrop to the light areas of the tulip’s foreground. The beads of water from the rain not only draw interest but emphasize the tulip bud as it is the only element in the scene which has it. The bud itself draws interest due it is brightly coloured, and almost fragile appearance. Collectively, they form a tapestry of contrasting yet, complimentary textures of that experience.

Indeed, April showers do bring May flowers as stated by the poem excerpt –

April showers bring May flowers,
That is what they say.
But if all the showers turned to flowers,
We’d have quite a colourful day!

There’d be bluebells and cockleshells,
Tulips red and green,
Daffodils and Chinese squill,
The brightest you’ve ever seen.

And, It was also apparent in the tulip bed outside my office window.

Naked Cowgirl

Naked Cowgirl
Naked Cowgirl

One of the most interesting franchises I have ever heard of is that of the Naked Cowboy. The term Naked Cowboy is trademarked by Robert Burck. However, he licenses the name to persons who wish to make  use of the brand.  A search on the internet  for a Naked Cowboy in Times Square will only reveal one, Mr. Burk, as he has defended his trademark fervently.  But, a similar search for a Naked Cowgirl on the other hand results in numerous results. This post is about the other half of the Naked Cowboy franchise, the Naked Cowgirl.

By no means is the Naked Cowgirl depicted in my photo the original.  The title of original Naked Cowgirl goes to Cindy Fox, who is a professional fitness trainer. But ever since the advent of the Naked Cowgirl, there have been several licensed  and unlicensed Naked Cowgirls. The one depicted in this post is one of the licensed ones, Alex.

I took this photograph on a previous visit to Times Square  and caught her while she was entertaining on the corner of 43rd St and 7th Avenue.  For those who are unfamiliar with this area of Manhattan, it is more commonly referred to as Midtown. It is one of the busiest sections in New York City frequented by tourists, street performers and native New Yorkers alike.

Along with her counterpart, the Naked Cowboy, she often welcomes visitors and takes group shots with those wishing to get a memento of their encounter with her. In my experience, the nature of the shots can range from  a basic friendly encounter to being a bit provocative. Of course, for every group shot taken there is also the expectation of a tip but It is all in good fun and worth the time. Further, unlike other entertainers and guides who work the Times Square area there is never the feel of being hustled into taking a group photograph – taking a photography of any one of the naked representatives is free.

Although there has only ever been one Naked Cowboy, the Naked Cowgirl, the counterpart to the Naked Cowboy franchise, has had numerous representatives.  And,  it is hard to visit New York City and not bounce into either one of the naked representatives. Given that Naked Cowgirl is just as much a staple of the  New York City experience, I would recommend paying her a visit on your next trip and taking a group shot if you are up for it. But, if you do, remember, do tip generously.

Chicago Girl

Chicago Girl
Chicago Girl

Taking advantage of the nearly Spring like conditions present on Sunday I ventured into Midtown, Manhattan.  My goal was to visit the ICP – International Centre of Photography. But, I also decided to enjoy the day and explore the general area. It was through my exploration I came across the Chicago Girl.  Allow me now to digress and explain how I encountered her.

After taking time to visually digest the numerous photographs and journals of Robert Cappa on display at the ICP, I took the time to walk about and enjoy the ever hectic pace of the city, NY City.  I  chose to wonder about feeling confident in the fact that wherever I ended up, my smart phone would help me get out of it again –  provided it had sufficient power.  Five minutes later, after a pleasant stroll following the crowds of people walking about and making their way through the city, I landed in Times Square.  Or rather, Times Square landed on me. It never ceases to amaze me how much activity occurs at that one spot in Manhattan.  It is overwhelming, and it is not just the numerous tourists and vendors who trade in the area but also various performers – in costumes, with musical instruments, with flyers – all trying to garner some attention to what they are providing.  It is a Mecca of distraction, but in so doing it is also vastly entertaining.

It is among these street performers I met the Chicago Girl. I refer to her as the Chicago girl as she was handing out flyers for that well known Broadway play that goes by the same name – Chicago. And, like the actors who play on Broadway, she was handing out flyers while moving in a well crafted, choreographed manner.  That, I think, is what caught my attention – that she would put that much effort into distributing flyers. And, at that point, I couldn’t help but take photos of her in her street performance.

Because of the hustle and bustle of so many persons walking by, it was hard, no difficult, to capture her.  To make things even more frustrating, the one lens I could have used to have a more isolating effect – my 55-200 mm lens  – was left at home to save weight.  So, for a moment, I was fighting an uphill battle. That is, until, the crowd parted just enough for me to capture her and her alone on the street doing her usual performance. I caught the photograph in this post in an experience which can only be communicated as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment”.

Without a doubt I really enjoyed my Sunday tour of the city. I enjoyed the visit to the museum, the crowds, the activity. I enjoyed the street performers and yes even the visitors made the experience welcoming. But, overall, I have to admit, the Chicago Girl made the experience all the worthwhile.

Round and Round the Merry-Go-Round

merry-go-round
merry-go-round

There are some things that, once seen, trigger nostalgic memories, of simpler and, what we always consider, better times. For some of us who grew up with carnivals and village feasts, visiting a fair filled with cotton candy, Ferris wheels, and Merry-go-rounds were a common sight.Visiting the NY State Fair last weekend thrust me back to into those memories especially when I saw the Merry-go-round.

The lights, the horses, the continual rotational movement was always fun and relaxing in spite of being monotonous. Certainly, they rides do not compare to what you would get at a place like Disney Land. But, I think being high-tech and exciting was never the appeal of a merry-go-round, that was never the point. It was fun because it simply appeals to a very basic desire to have uncomplicated fun.

That desire led me to take the photograph of this merry-go-round at the NY State Fair. It reminded me so much of those uncomplicated fun-filled days  that I enjoyed as a child and I wanted to capture the excitement of that moment. In using a slower shutter speed, I tried to capture the rotational movement of the ride and the exhilarating experience it’s riders would be enjoying. The lights which forms a natural appeal for the ride and most other carnival exhibits are emphasized here as they capture the circular pattern helping the ride seem almost like a flying saucer. And, it stands out as a marvel from the distance it was shot.

Indeed, their simple nature is one of the major appeals of merry-go-rounds. And, it is true that because of this, they do not stack up to more contemporary rides available in places as Disney Land when it comes to high-tech appeal. But, it is the lack of that characteristic which inspires people to get-in-touch with the nostalgic moments of their childhood and experience the exhilarating, uncomplicated fun of the merry-go-round.

Through My Window

Through My Window
Through My Window

It is amazing the small things we miss because we are so wrapped up in the business of the regular day-to-day – the falling rain, the blossoming flowers, the small shaft of sunlight as the clouds part. I am just as much a culprit of that as well. I often times get so wrapped up in programming at work that I forget to observe the things outside. Well, I broke away from the monotony and observed, through my window, tulips blossoming in the sunlight behind a pane of wet glass.

The act of using the texture made by the streaking water droplets on the glass was very deliberate as I wanted to bring attention both to the water and the flowers in the background. I could think of no other way to present it that would illustrate those elements together and on par. In fact, the water provided something more akin to a texture to the overall image.The lighting played its part in making the image what it is, lightly kissing the flowers helping them emerge from the surrounding dark green vegetation.

Could I have made the image sharper? Sure I could. But, the purpose of the image was not about conveying a surgical copy but to convey a mood. A mood that is often felt when observing the rain fall. It is more of a feeling of being purified as particles are washed away and everything seems to burst with renewed vigour. That is what I felt when I saw the scene and what I wanted to convey when I shot this image through my window.

Montauk Point Coastline

Montauk Point Coastline
Montauk Point Coastline

Oops, I did it again. I revisited the Montauk Point area to have a look at it given the changing conditions and because things were warming up – yaaay Spring. I had also planned on exploring more of the area like the coastline which I hadn’t had an opportunity to do on my previous trip. What I encountered however was a lot more than I bargained for.

I had thought that my visit would have been much like the previous one with the lighthouse being inaccessible. But as it so happens, on this visit, the lighthouse had resumed its services opening up to visitors. This time around, I had to pay a little to get into the parking lot and yes, I had to pay to get into the lighthouse as well but it was worth every “penny” – paid by credit card. Nevertheless, I got into the lighthouse which I later understood is currently unmanned – It operates automatically. Further, the rest of the lighthouse has been converted into a museum illustrating the history of the lighthouse and the Montauk Point. The discussions given by the guides were both educational and refreshing but the real treat of the visit was getting the opportunity to ascend the spiral staircase into the light enclosure. It was there I shot the photograph depicted above showing the jagged coastline of the Point.

The Montauk Point Coastline has been etched by the Atlantic Ocean over years of slow and continuous erosion. This has created some rather steep bluffs which look out into the waters. During stormy conditions, the beach area which is visible in the photograph is not accessible so it was very fortunate that I got an opportunity to make this capture. However, the natural formation of this beach front is beautiful and is the reason why I selected it as one of the photographs to post of my visit.

In retrospect, it would have been nice if I had the opportunity for me to set up my tripod to take this photograph and properly compose the shot. Given the narrow staircase, limited room to work within and limitations as to where visitors are allowed to access, it was not at all possible to properly plan out the shot as I would have wanted to. But, that was one of the limitations of  my revisit to the Montauk Point Coastline. Regardless, I enjoyed every bit of it.

Fine Art Nature and Outdoor Lifestyle Photographer