Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Tête au Carré (the “blockhead building”) in Nice

Friday, September 12th, 2008

I’ve saved the best photos of Nice for last. Next to the conference center stands Sacha Sosno’s Tête au Carré, though most of the English-speaking engineers at the TCG meeting referred to it as the “blockhead building.” It’s apparently the administration building for the public library system in Nice, but it has to be the oddest-looking library administration building ever. Really, where else have you seen an 80-foot-tall square head?

In black and white, at sunset. The face looks across the street towards the convention center:

In color, to capture the flower beds in the nearby park:

Capoeira on Cours Saleya (and other street performances in Nice)

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

One of the joys of eating at restaurants on Cours Saleya in Nice is that it was a focal point for much of the open-air street theater and entertainment. A Brazilian capoeira troupe performed one evening, holding athletic poses I can only dream of, like this one:

After one set, a performer gave a short lesson to a visiting child:

One of the performers flipped down a long stretch of Cours Saleya, head over heels:

With a long distance to build up speed on the return, he vaulted over a line held about six feet in the air. (As an interesting aside, I think Henri Matisse lived in the tan building in the right background of this photo.)

After dinner, I wandered around Vieux Nice, and found an informal concert near Glacier Fenocchio at 2 Place Rossetti. Place Rossetti was the site of my favorite moment in Nice. I was visiting during the Euro 2008 Cup tournament, and Spain and Russia were battling in a scoreless game as I approached Place Rossetti. Suddenly, a roar went up and the ground shook from cheering. The shock was enough to set off car alarms. Spain had scored to take the lead against Russia, and the people in Nice were cheering on Spain almost unanimously.

In the background of the photo is the lit bell tower Cathédrale Sainte Réparate, which makes a stunning background for an open-air concert.

Just as with street performances the world over, the concert ended with a hat being passed around to collect donations.

The port of Nice

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Colline du Château is between Vieux Nice to the west and the port of Nice to the east. One night, I ate dinner near the port, and couldn’t resist taking a photo of the scrambled departure board:

The port is sheltered from the sea by a long jetty that juts out into the harbor. Protecting the ships is necessary, and I couldn’t help but notice that the ships moored came from all across the world and flew many different flags. This photo was taken from the jetty facing Colline du Château. The massive monument in the background is a memorial to the war dead of Nice.

Eglise Notre Dame du Port is located at the edge of the harbor. It’s one of the smaller churches in Nice, and was unfortunately closed by dinner time.

Colline du Château, Nice

Monday, September 8th, 2008

The early settlement of Nice occurred on a rocky outcrop next to what is now the old town. Colline du Château (“Castle Hill” in English) offers sweeping panoramic views of the city, its shoreline, and the deep blue sea. Steps away from the beach lies Cours Saleya, a traditional square lined with cafes and shops, and a daily flower market. In this photo, Cours Saleya is the diagonal area with colored awnings sheltering the flower shops.

From Colline du Château, Vieux Nice stands out from the rest of the city because of its orange roof tiles, which are a visually striking contrast to the nearby sea.

There are many places to look out over the city from the hill. This shot shows a view over the Promenade des Anglais.

Vieux Nice

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

In June, after being in England and visiting Stonehenge on the summer solstice, I went to Nice, France for a Trusted Computing Group meeting.

After arriving, one of the first things I did was head for View Nice, the old part of town. Old city districts are easy to explore on foot. As one book I read several years ago put it, cities reflect the dominant form of transportation used at their construction. Walking means you get crowded districts with small paths, like Jerusalem. Horse riding leads to wider streets but often in a jumble, like Boston. Finally, by the time the car comes along, you get wide streets all intersecting at right angles with excellent visibility for drivers. In other words, you get Los Angeles.

Old city districts are built around foot transportation, and they have a small scale that really helps me as a photographer. It’s easier to fit a lot of action into a frame without using a super-wide angle lens, and it’s easy to move around. Vieux Nice is no exception. Here’s the bustle on one of the main roads leading in:

One of the challenges walking around Vieux Nice was the lack of street signs. There were, however, several plaques commemorating French citizens who fought in previous wars. I was particularly struck by this plaque, which recognizes a young man executed by the Nazis at the age of seventeen:

Streets in Vieux Nice are narrow, even for pedestrians. Here’s a typical street size, and the width on offer shrinks even farther when cafe tables or shop displays are put out in the street.

In spite of the narrow streets, there were a few cars that wandered the cramped streets of Vieux Nice. Here’s a tiny car trying to make its way by a pedestrian who seemed perfectly content to walk in the middle of the street.

However, the prize for showing how difficult driving in the old city came one night as I was dining at Nissa Socca. It’s a bit off the beaten path, on Rue Ste.-Réparate. As I was sitting outside, a Smart car crawled by and made a turn off the “big” street of Rue Ste.-Réparate on to a much smaller side street. At the right edge of this picture, you can see the small street, barely bigger than an alley. In fact, to make the turn, the Smart had to attempt it a couple of times and back up to get a better angle.

Just for fun, I grabbed a picture of the Smart after it made it into the alley. Smarts are tiny cars, and yet the small size of the streets in Vieux Nice required it to make multi-point turns.

Museums and photography

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Last week, I read about Thomas Hawk’s run-in (or is that “run-out”?) with SFMOMA, and I thought about several similar experiences I’ve had.

My gut feeling is that he was being targeted for using an SLR. I have often felt targeted when I started carrying an SLR, especially once I started mounting reasonably large zoom lenses with lens hoods. My most notable memory is from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which allows photography in its atriums, but not galleries. (That’s a fair policy, since much of the work exhibited in a museum will be on loan and the museum can’t give permission to photograph it.) After seeing a half-dozen people use point-and-shoot cameras with flashes enabled in an atrium, I pulled out my SLR and was immediately approached by a security guard who told me that the museum did not allow photography. When I pointed to the visitor brochure’s statement about photography, he told me that I could put my camera away or leave. I put away my camera, but I’m not inclined to go back.

Nearly all museums in Europe are much more forgiving, and many seem to encourage photography. The one exception I can think of is the Musée Matisse in Nice, where all of the work is still protected by copyright. When I visited this summer, the receptionist said that the museum didn’t allow photography because “Matisse’s grandchildren don’t want to work.”

The best photo policy I’ve seen at a U.S. museum is at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. In the visitor brochure, the museum allows photography without a flash for non-commercial use. If you want to sell photos, the museum includes an e-mail address and phone number to contact for permissions.

The 2008 Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Nearly two months ago, I happened to be in the UK for the summer solstice. English Heritage allows access into the inner stone circle four times a year. (Most of the rest of the time, including my visit in April, visitors must stay behind a rope.)

The first hint that it’s a huge event comes when you get near Stonehenge and notice all the signs for the solstice car park. I was one of the first cars into the car park, as you can see from the long line of cars extending into the distance here.

At 8 pm, access to the stone circle itself opened. There were several people in various costumes and garb. One of my favorites was this wizard hat.

Unlike my previous visit, the crowd was able to get up close to the stones, which is an electric feeling. The audio tour describes all the mysteries of the site, but you don’t really appreciate how massive the stones are until you start walking among them.

There is a small gateway composed of a pair of small pillars sticking up. Many people walked through the gateway.

Even though the terms of access to the site asked visitors not to touch the stones, it was an irresistable temptation for many people.

As many of the earlier visitors were walking in, a group called the Stonehenge Druids formed a procession and was playing bagpipes. Although I entered the site about the same time as the Druids, the physical exertion of producing music from the bagpipes meant they were walking much slower. The bagpipe players had some of the best cloaks at the celebration.

Around sunset, the Stonehenge Druids ran a short ritual, drawing a huge crowd into the center circle. A drum circle formed in the center afterwards, and the crowd settled in for the night. The weather was cold and rainy, and the ground was quite wet. At one point, I retreated to the car in the car park to take a nap. (As an aside, the absolute worst way ever to deal with jet lag is to stay up all night a few days after you arrive in the country.)

About 3 am, a few torches appeared in the distance near the Heel Stone. I didn’t expect much to come of it, since fire had also been forbidden. I wish I had headed towards the torches a bit faster, since the early-morning ritual was a well-done high-energy performance. It started with a group of dancers around a huge skull object.

Many of the participants in this late-night/early-morning ritual had fantastic costumes. My favorite was a torch-holder who had a moon-shaped mask. From the back, the moon face grinned. From the front, his face was painted to look like a skull. (In this picture, you can clearly see that the rain has picked up.)

As the crowd got into the ritual, somebody fired a green laser into the night sky.

The final act of the 3 am ritual was a belly dancer, who unfortunately concentrated on the other side of the cordoned-off area. (For a laugh, note that the man in the high-visibility vest is holding the crowd back. Follow his eyes towards the dancer.)

As the sun rose, the sky was still cloudy. Sunrise was indistinct, and hardly noticeable through the thick clouds. The crowd once again gathered in the center circle. At the small scale of this photo, it’s hard to see just how tightly packed the crowd is.

After the light had risen higher up in the sky, the 20,000 attendees filed back out to the car park. I went back to my hotel and slept for a few hours before moving on to my next airport. For the next week of the trip, my sleep pattern was disrupted. If I were to attend a Stonehenge open site again, I would try and arrive in the country a bit earlier.


Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I have not sat down to formally add up how long I have spent in various countries, but I know that if I did so, the United Kingdom would come out on top. My first visit to the UK was over fifteen years ago, and in 1999 I spent three separate months on assignment on the outskirts of London near Heathrow. In spite of all of the time I have spent in the UK, though, I have never been to Stonehenge. On my recent trip, I decided to take advantage of my rental car and see the place.

On reflection, I think I was lucky and slipped between two waves of tour buses. As I arrived, a great number of people were leaving the site, and it stayed relatively uncrowded for the duration of my visit. Many of my photos show the crowds; the one below of the main circle is an exception.

English Heritage, the government body that manages Stonehenge, provides free audio guide instead of erecting interpretive signs that clutter the landscape. While generally well done, the audio guide has one particular difficulty versus signs, which is that the ravens that gather at Stonehenge make a great deal of noise. (At the reduced resolution of the photo below, the ravens are not visible as much more than specks, though.)

My departure was hurried by the arrival of dark clouds blotting out the blue sky. By the time I made it to the car, the rain had picked up and was quite heavy. Even though the rain had held off during my visit, the whole experience was still a fairly cold one. Stonehenge is set slightly above the surrounding terrain, and there is a great deal of wind whipping through the monument.

Athens, part 10: return to the Acropolis

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

(This is the tenth and final part in a series about my trip to Athens. See parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine.)

As I walked around the foot of the Acropolis, there was another “aha!” language moment. Monuments and sacred sites around the Acropolis were connected by a foot path called the Peripatos. Its shared root with the English word “peripatetic” was obvious (in part because that adjective was widely used to describe Rudy Perpich, the governor of Minnesota when I attended elementary school).

Off the Peripatos, the Stoa of Eumenes connects the Theater of Dionysis to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This photo was taken facing the Odeon.

At night, the Acropolis is lit beautifully, and stands out against the dark sky. Even at night, the brightly lit Acropolis serves as a beacon while walking around the city.

The same night, I took a photo of myself with the Acropolis as a backdrop. Unlike the previous photo, I had to keep the shutter speed down so my image would remain sharp. Exposing the dimly lit far-off background correctly required an extreme case of dragging the shutter. I mounted the camera on a tripod, exposed the photo for six seconds to collect enough light for the background, and used an on-camera flash to expose myself in the foreground.

On my first night in Athens, I walked from my hotel on Syngrou to the Acropolis. Although entry to the Acropolis was closed by the time I finally arrived near the Acropolis, I was able to set up my camera on the Areopagus and capture my exhausted grin after finally making it through the snowstorms.

Athens, part 9: The National Archaeological Museum

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

(This is part 9 in a series about my trip to Athens. See parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight.)

History is inescapable when visiting Athens. (For me, that’s the major attraction.) On my visit, I made sure to save some time for the National Archaeological Museum. As you might expect, it has one of the best collections of treasures from ancient Greece.

Many of the most famous pieces in the museum are massive imposing marble statues. My favorite piece in the museum was not one of them. In the museum’s prehistoric collection, there is a relatively small gallery with artifacts from the Mycenaean civilization, including some tables with writing in the extremely old Linear B script. Linear B was used over three thousand years ago, and most of the writing that survives is everyday topics. If I recall the signs in the museum correctly, these tablets have livestock inventory and property records. Given the small size and fleeting nature of some of the records, these are probably some of the world’s oldest Post-it notes.

One of the major themes of the museum is the changing nature of funerary markers. Several funerary markers in the shape of lions exist, all of which have detailed, flame-shaped manes.

At a dead end in one of the inner rooms was perhaps the greatest treat of the visit, a small sculpture of Athena Parthenos (Athena the virgin). A massive version graced the interior of Parthenon; contemporary accounts indicate the original in the Parthenon used over a ton of gold. Two replicas believed to be faithful survive to this day, and the only complete one is the statue exhibited in the museum.

Details on the copy are incredible, down to the snakes that serve as a belt and the locks of hair that trail down on to the breastplate. (Reflections from nearby windows are unavoidable; as one of the foremost treasures of the museum, this piece is shown only in a protective case.)

In the center of the museum, a sculpture gallery shows off the height of Hellenistic sculptural achievement. I have always been impressed by the ability of sculpture to show movement. One of my favorite pieces in the Louvre is Diana of Versailles, showing the goddess of the hunt in pursuit of her prey. The original idea would have belonged to Greek sculptors, as shown here.

The gallery also has a striking statue of Aphrodite, holding a richly-detailed drapery.