Inspired: Black and White Photography

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliott Erwitt

Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon, Venice, Italy, 1953 ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Every day inspiration can be sparked by so many things: a Warholian piece of art; a quote by Paulo Coelho; the dramatic lines of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Today, I was inspired by monochromatic images. I love when a photograph evokes a feeling, and black+whites have a knack of doing that.

Recently I have been paying attention to other elements too; composition, depth of field, lines, expressions, and angles. Reading images in this way encourages me to notice details that I may have otherwise overlooked.

I like this new change. It’s a reminder to look at the world with new eyes. Enjoy the inspiration!

A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.  ~ Ansel Adams

Flooded Piazza San Marco with St Marks Church Venice, 1952 ~ Dimitri Kessel

Picasso Behind a Window, 1952 ~ Robert Doisneau

New York, 1955 ~ Elliott Erwitt

Antonio Gaudi's Churchy Of The Holy Family Barcelona, Spain, 1951 ~ N R Farbman

Check out how much the Sagrada Familia has progressed since then, click here (then scroll to bottom of that post)

People buying out of town newspapers in Times Square during newspaper strike, NY, 1953 ~ Ralph Morse

View of Ministry of Justice and Government Building from Senate Building, Brasília, Brazil, 1977 ~ Julius Shulman

Wedding in London, 1950's ~ Photographer Unknown

Photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the photo as a judgment that the photograph is good. ~ Garry Winogrand

Russian Metro, Moscow, 1941 ~ Margaret Bourke-White

Rome Railroad Station,1951 ~ Jack Birns

Rome Railroad Station,1951 ~ Jack Birns

Moscow Street Scene ~ Carl Mydans

Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph. ~ Andre Kertesz

Kennedy at the L.A.1960 Democratic National Convention ~ Garry Winogrand

Delegates looking at Taj Mahal, 1961 ~ James Burke

Los Angeles Airport, 1978-83 ~ Garry Winogrand

Sharpness is a bourgeois concept. ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

"Swan Lake", Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cyclades Island of Siphnos, Greece ~ 1961

Hyères, France, 1932 ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work. ~ William Klein

French couple at cafe Tango du Chat in the Latin Quarter, Paris, 1949 ~ Gjon Mili

Academy Awards, 1962 ~ Allan Grant

Newspaper boy selling newspapers amidst the traffic on Olive Street in downtown area nr. 6th Street, LA,1949 ~ Loomis Dean

Palm Springs ~ Julius Shulman

A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.  ~ Eudora Welty

Hermes Store, Paris, 1952 ~ N R Farbman

New York ~ Vivian Maier

Flooded Piazza San Marco with St Marks Church, Venice, 1952 ~ Dimitri Kessel

Breathing Travel: A Simple and Savvy Start…

When an article is described as ‘evergreen’, this means that its content is based on tips, resources, or other topics that do not go out of date as quickly as those of current events.

This is the objective of the first post on my Breathing Travel | Documenting the journey blog, where posts are dedicated to my coursework at MatadorU.

Inspired by my sister’s upcoming trip as a first-timer to Europe, I decided to collate a series of tips for her. Take a look and I’d love to know whether you’d add any more tips.

SOLO TRAVEL: Keeping it Simple and Savvy

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~ Seneca

Barcelona's bustling La Boqueria

My sister is embarking on her first European trip in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited for her. Living ‘Down Under’, in 200+ year old Australia, the rest of the world can, at times, seem so out of reach; a trip to Europe is definitely high on most Aussie to-do lists. My sister’s own feelings of excitement will undoubtedly give way to wonder, amazement, and awe when she steps foot into London – her first stop after a 20+ hour plane trip. Jet lag? Shelve that for the trip back home to Sydney!

That said, I cannot help but take on the role of protective sister; about 2 weeks out of my little sister’s 4 week vacation will be traveled solo as she makes her way through Mediterranean exotica. As liberating as this part of the trip will be, I wanted to share some big sister advice on pre-planning; to try and avoid any unnecessary solo-traveler anxiety. (Mum, I am doing this for you too).

Sister, and interested others – this list is yours to print out and keep by your side.

Quaint Cannes

Packing:

  1. Don’t buy a black suitcase. Buy a well-made reputable brand – preferably one that is on sale because of a low-selling design pattern, or not-so-popular colour. Why? No-one will really want to steal it, and it will be easily recognizable on the carousel.
  2. Pack clothes to look like a local. Classic basics are ideal to mix n match on a daily basis; go easy on the shoe selection. Please – no ‘I Heart Roma’ T-shirts paired with stark-white sneakers… you know why. Leave the jewels at home.
  3. Keep the toiletries to a minimum. Save room in the suitcase and head to Boots pharmacy in the UK to stock up. Buy a small sunscreen to keep in the purse – the exposed top decks of the hop on/hop off bus tours double up as rooftops for sunbaking.
  4. Be sensitive with electronics. Keep chargers and the e-book safe in your hand luggage AND buy a plug converter.
  5. Care for the Camera. Keep the compact in its case; perhaps buy a second battery and memory card that are ready-to-go in case the others run dry half way through the day. Plenty of pictures will be taken – I know it!
  6. Load up the e-book and ipod with your favourite shows, files, and songs, to make the most out of those plane or train delays. Wandering around with earphones is a no-go, especially in cities like London where crowds and traffic reign. It’s easy to get distracted.
  7. Pack miscellanea. Gather together some wet-wipes, tissues, lollies/sweets, band-aids, notebook with pen, and Panadol/Advil – stash them in your purse. They will come in handy at some point, promise.
  8. Curb homesickness. Take a few of your favourite family-and-friend photos as well as something to remind you of home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Artful Florence

Money and Documents:

  1. Photocopy documents 3 times: passport, itinerary (see * below), airline tickets, insurance papers, and credit cards. Leave one at home with always-contactable parents/friends; put another copy in your hand luggage, and the other, in the suitcase – just in case the purse gets lost. *Create a detailed itinerary with hotel, tour, train, information, airline details; as well as printing it, email to yourself and parents/friends.
  2. Convert some money at the bank before you leave, say AUD300 into pounds and Euros. Ask for low denominations (5,10,20 notes) so you don’t have to struggle with getting change back. I don’t recommend currency exchange booths – their exchange rates aren’t the best. Use a credit card when possible, and if you need to use the ATM, find one in a well lit public place.
  3. Look up destination specific blogs. When planning your itinerary, blogs are a really good resource to seek out as they can give detailed information on the who, what, where, how, why. Honest, first-hand accounts written by everyday travelers get really specific on the most intricate details, especially the watch-outs. e.g. how much to expect to pay for a taxi from the airport; the best train to catch between cities; Metro timetable limitations, surcharges, hidden fees.
A Fiat in Roma

A Fiat in Roma

Research

  1. Learn some key phrases. Write a few key words in the languages you’ll be encountering, and put these cue cards in your wallet, e.g. good morning, thank you, I’m not interested, HELP! Interest in the local language can go a long way – it can be fun trying to converse (with hand gestures too).
  2. Etiquette. Being culturally respectful and sensitive is always a good thing, especially as a first-time traveler. Even moreso if visiting sacred sites and churches. Here are a couple of good links for Italy: http://www.fodors.com/news/story_3872.html and http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-etiquette/2008/06/Etiquette-101-The-Mediterranean
  3. Museum Passes and Metro cards. Sometimes buying these from home, prior to travel, can give you certain privileges like jumping the queue at those line-riddled Parisian museums.Plus, you’ve just pre-paid so that saves you even more time.  e.g. The Museum Pass in Paris – Goodbye crazy long line; Hello Musee D’Orsay!
  4. Mobile/Cell Phone. You don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for roaming charges when you get home, so give the phone company a call prior to travel and find out your international options.
  5. Pre-book as many hotel nights, train passes, and tours as possible. It’s good to have a framework to travel within – it keeps you on track as time is of the essence.

Pretty Monaco

Solo Travel Tips

  1. Indulge in the café-culture. Coffee is necessary traveler fuel! Sit in an outdoor terrace of a Parisian bistro, or stand in an espresso bar in Rome; people-watch; get a feel of a neighbourhood; and, write a postcard (to me!).
  2. Always take business cards. From the hotel, café, restaurant, store – just in case you get yourself lost in Europe’s maze of streets, or need to show the address to a taxi-driver who doesn’t speak English.
  3. Make friends if you have a good gut instinct about them but don’t give out too much personal information. You can never be too sure…
  4. Going out. Hopefully with some fellow travelers, and try and keep it close by to the hotel – double check whether the lobby is serviced 24/7. Watch your drink with an eagle eye.
  5. Hotel Tips. Ask for a room that isn’t on the ground level, use the safe to stash your valuables, befriend the concierge – they are an invaluable source for maps, tour recommendations, and getting you in to a restaurant.
  6. If you can sense trouble. If you feel that someone may be following you – enter a store or café to surround yourself with people that could potentially help you out.
  7. Keep in touch regularly. Buy a phone card from each country; find out where the Internet cafes are (preferably, there is Internet access in your hotel). Call your mother, she worries! Email you sister, she worries too!

NB: Security lines at the airport – remember to wear hole-less socks and easy to remove shoes; the less metal on you, the better; buy that bottle of water after you’ve cleared the line.

Most importantly, relax and have a great trip. Bon Voyage!

A Roman Espresso

Grand Central Terminal: astrology, whispers… and some history

Picture this: Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. It’s crowded. Bustling with commuters trying to make it from Point A to Point B; fast-walking through the station’s Main Concourse, intermittently glancing down at their watches, hoping not to miss their trains to Connecticut – or wherever they may be heading to. If only they would stop once in a while to admire the details… Or perhaps they’re just in too much of a rush…?

 “Never stand between a commuter and his train.” Sun Tzu

The Grand Central Terminal is iconic to Manhattan. Located on 42nd Street and Park Avenue, you’ve likely seen it featured in countless movies –  during Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and more recently, in Mendes’ Revolutionary Roador referenced many times, whether it be as inspiration for New Yorker cover art or as a listed must-see in a  guidebook on Manhattan. Acquainted as we all may be with this landmark (note: it is a National Historic Landmark), I had always been intrigued about a couple of its charming yet mysterious details: that magical-looking painted ceiling, and the legend of its whispering walls. Recently, I set on a research/adventure to uncover the stories behind this intrigue.

A few weeks ago, I had watched a rerun of Anthony Bourdain’s Layover – Rome, during which the Termini Station was described as: hellish, with as much charm as New York’s 34th Street Penn Station (that is, none). I share these sentiments and can thankfully say that the same cannot be said for the Grand Central Terminal. In stark contrast to its counterparts, it is a beautifully restored Beaux-Arts building that is pleasant to walk through – crowded or not.

A bit of history…

Grand Central Terminal’s beginnings extend back to 1871. However for purposes of this post, I’ll start around the time of the station being saved from its potential fate by a wrecking ball.

In 1968, its lessee, UGP Properties, had proposed a Marcel Breuer-designed, 55-story tower to be built above the Grand Central Terminal. Such a plan would ultimately mean harsh consequences for the building: either its façade, or the entire Main Waiting Room and part of the Main Concourse, would need to be demolished. Having been designated a landmark a year earlier, not only did the Landmarks Preservation Commission block any such project, but the plans sparked an outcry from many city leaders, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who stated:

Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.

Suffice to say, that after a decade’s worth of battling it out in court rooms, the Supreme Court upheld New York’s landmark law and spared the terminal such a fate. (The station had been declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)

In a major state of decline since its post-war days, Metro-North along with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (known as MTA, who in 1994 gained long-term control of Grand Central Terminal in the form of a long term lease) started a planning process that paved the way for what we now know as the restored Grand Central Terminal. Revitalisation and construction had begun in 1996, when a couple of years into it, a striking artwork was uncovered: the Main Concourse’s Sky Ceiling.

Star Light, Star Bright

If you look closely at the revelers in the Grand Central Terminal, you’ll notice many of them with craned necks, staring up at the 125-foot high ceiling. Arching over the 80,000 square-foot Main Concourse, the vaulted expanse is beautified with astrological images based on a design by the French painter Paul Helleu. In 1912, Helleu had painted the artwork in gold leaf on a background of cerulean blue oil. Unfortunately, the ceiling had been obscured shortly thereafter – it had been mended in the 1930’s due to falling plaster and it had also been badly tarred by tobacco smoke.

The astrological painting “portrays the Mediterranean sky with October-to-March zodiac and 2,500 stars. The 60 largest stars mark the constellations and are illuminated with fiber optics, but used to be lit with 40 watt light bulbs that workers changed regularly by climbing above the ceiling and pulling the light bulbs out from above.

Soon after the Terminal opened, it was noted that the section of the zodiac depicted by the mural was backwards. For several decades, lively controversy raged over why this was so. Some of the explanations offered were that it just looked better, or it didn’t fit into the ceiling any other way. The actual reason is that Paul Helleu took his inspiration from a medieval manuscript, published in an era when painters and cartographers depicted the heavens as they would have been seen from outside the celestial sphere.”*

There is a small dark circle in the midst of the stars right above the image of Pisces. In a 1957 attempt to counteract feelings of insecurity spawned by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the Grand Central’s Main Concourse played host to an American Redstone missile. With no other way to erect the missile, the hole was cut so the rocket could be lifted into place. Historical Preservation dictated that this hole remain (as opposed to being repaired) as a testament to the many uses of the Terminal over the years.**

Now, what of those Whispering Walls?

I had discovered the wonder of Grand Central Terminal’s Whispering Gallery when my sister was visiting from Sydney a few years ago (gosh, that was in 2005!). Having been told about it by a traveler in passing, we had attempted to follow their rough instructions:  we were to walk down the ramp to the famous Oyster Bar, and the gallery would be right there. And there it was. Right outside of the seafood restaurant, we found ourselves standing under the low tiled domed ceiling of the ‘Whispering Gallery’.

The tiled, domed ceiling

A glimpse inside the Oyster Bar

Next, we were to diagonally stand across from one another, backs to each other, and face into one of the four piers that form the perimeter of the gallery. Then we were to whisper into ‘our’ pier, as if carrying on a conversation. We had done just that: speaking lowly into the corners in the arches, we has set about testing the gallery’s acoustic abilities. Lo and behold, we could hear one another perfectly.

Unfortunately, I recently came to find out that there is no legend behind the sound phenomenon. The crossing pair of vaulted arches allows for “the whisperer’s voice (to) follow the curve of the domed ceiling.”*** Hence, the feeling that you’re talking to one another as if side by side, as opposed to experiencing muffled conversation in any crowded intersection.

Grand Central Terminal has certainly come into its own through a long process of reconstruction. As I mentioned in my post on Manhattan’s High Line, New York is a spirited place, and it is heartening to find out that such prominent, historical New York icons share the common thread of a rallying community support behind them. It is a show of dedication to a much admired and adored city. And, not only that, but the Grand Central Terminal contains mysteries that will continue to entertain residents and travelers alike, for years to come.

*grandcentralterminal.com **Wikipedia ***manhattan.about.com

When in Rome… Go to the Colosseum

Gladiatorial combat existed in the days of the Roman Empire. If you’ve seen the movie Gladiator, you’ll know what I am talking about. A script didn’t inspire producer-writer-director Ridley Scott to make this movie — instead, it was a painting titled Pollice Verso* by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. The painting shows the crowd decreeing death on a fallen gladiator. Scott said, “That image spoke to me of the Roman Empire in all its glory and wickedness. I knew right then and there I was hooked.” The venue for this form of battle? The Colosseum.

Colosseum – its beauty, its lines of visitors, its modern day Gladiators (in the foreground)

The Colosseum is one of the most visited monuments in Italy, and hosts up to six million people every year. The first thing that strikes you about it is its sheer size. In its heyday, the arena stood at 160 feet (49 meters) high, covered six acres (24,300 square metres), and could hold about 60,000 spectators with standing room for 10,000. Once one of the tallest Roman structures, the Colloseum’s imposing edifice has suffered from the forces of nature (earthquake, fire and lightning damage) and at the hands of man (who either stripped it of its decorations or used its stone in the construction of buildings such as the steps of St Peter’s Basilica).

The interior of the arena

Completed in 80 AD after a 10 year construction process, the Colosseum’s elliptical arena rose to four tiers. Mostly used for seating, the first tier was reserved for senators and ambassadors, the second, for the wealthy, and the third, for the public. The fourth tier provided the support fixtures to anchor an awning over the Colosseum’s circumference to shield spectators from harsh weather conditions. Unlike the other tiers, the fourth tier had windows.

The centre stage was covered in sand and was separated from the first tier by a high wall. When we visited in May 2011, the stage was being restored and below it you could make out the maze of tunnels and rooms that contained caged animals and gladiators before they were released onto the battlefield. Imagine the sounds of a roaring audience, the blaring of trumpets, and the beating of drums as the gladiators walked out of the passageways in the hopes of a victorious battle. To increase the element of shock and surprise, trap doors from the wooden floor of the stage were used to release ‘special guests’ during the ‘floor show’.

Restoration of the arena’s centre stage (in foreground) reveals the underground tunnels

Combat between gladiators and wild animals was said to be the most popular event, but there were many variations and all were fights to the death. All kinds of weapons were used – swords, nets, tridents, daggers and offensive shields – and the people involved, included professional gladiators, convicted criminals, Christians, hunters, dwarves and even women. The arena was decorated with sets representing woods and deserts and on occasion it was flooded and equipped with small boats to imitate a sea battle. (Ann Natanson, www.historytoday.com in her piece, ‘Restoring the Colosseum: A colossal undertaking’.)

Close-up on arena, Tier One

The last known gladiator contest was held in 404AD. Legend has it that a monk, Saint Telemachus, protested the combats by attempting to stop a fight in a Roman amphitheatre. He is said to have been stoned to death by the crowd and his act of martyrdom effected the end of gladiator battles.

A cross to remember Christians who perished in the arena

Considerable investment has been made to restore the Colosseum to its former glory. The founder of luxury leathergoods brand Tod’s, Diego Della Valle, pledged 25 million euros (US$34 million) to the project over a three year period. By 2014, visitors should have access to a quarter more of the ancient Roman remains.

Click here to see a fantastic photo of the interior of the Colosseum. An amazing photo!
Tips: to avoid the long line for tickets, pay a couple more Euros and take the audio tour. This should guarantee you faster entry.

Since the majority of the structure is viewed under the sun, don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat ….and sunglasses in the warmer months.

*Translated as ‘Thumbs Down’ from the Latin phrase pollice verso meaning “with a turned thumb”. It can be seen at the Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona. See reproduction of the painting below.

800px-Jean-Leon_Gerome_Pollice_Verso