Friday, 27 December 2013

Villa Stenersen

Villa Stenersen 7This past summer, I managed to scope out William Coaker's bungalow in Port Union. This fall, I checked out Rolf Stenersen's place in Oslo. I blame Shane O'Dea for this urge to look at houses and buildings. I took a course from Shane called The History of Western Architecture while I was an engineering undergraduate student at MUN. It was supposed to be a fluff humanities course to fill up my schedule, but I ended up enjoying it immensely. I now make a point of visiting interesting buildings and houses as often as I can.

Stenersen's house was designed in 1938 by Arne Korsmo in the functionalist school. I thought this might appeal to the engineer in me, so I went to have a look.

The tour guide at the house said that when his neighbor sold Stenersen the land upon which the house now sits, he only stipulated that the house not be above a certain height. Presumably this was to prevent his view from being blocked. However, when he saw the finished house, he hated it so much that he sold his own property and moved up the street.

Personally, I like the look on the outside, even if it is a bit sparse.

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Concrete and glass houses would have been very rare back in the 30's. This could have been the reason why there was such a strong negative, initial reaction. There are little blocks of glass everywhere, even the "airlock" doorway.

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The "table" by the door was intended for the woman of the house to lay her purse on as she opened the door. This is perhaps a functionalist idea taken a bit too far? I doubt it was used much.

Likewise with the glass blocks. The tour guide said that the idea of the glass was for solar heat, but that it ended up being quite warm in the house when the sun was out. Much like a greenhouse, I would imagine. And like a greenhouse, I bet this house is terribly cold in the winter.

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The glass is terribly expensive, about 1,000 NOK a block (about $150). This is because each one has to be hand made. For a "functional" design, this is not very practical.

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Korsmo even tried to use glass blocks in the ceiling over the central stair to simulate star light.

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It doesn't work that well, either, because the stair is so dark that supplemental lighting must be used, even in the daytime.

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While the functionalism of the place appealed to me, I did not like the lack of decoration. That is not to say there is no decoration, just not a lot of it. The pillars in the lower level are inlaid with what looks like pre-historic art.

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But this column is pretty much all of the decoration there is. Stenersen donated the house to the Norwegian government in 1974*. Since then, the house has really fallen into disrepair. It is supposedly used for meetings, but it is very sparsely furnished.

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If you are a fan of architecture, or are living in Oslo, then this is an interesting place to spend an hour. Despite having had to learn some lessons in what is truly functional and what is not, Korsmo did a reasonable job with this design. However, if you are in Oslo on a tight tour timeline, there are many other places to see before seeing this one.

* I recall the tour guide saying 1974, but when I did a Google search to verify this, I was surprised to see many dates from many sources, ranging from 1971 to 1978. I guess this just goes to show you have to be careful about facts found on the Internet.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Little Red Dress

Dancer in a Little Red Dress #2Red is a very dominant colour. Just a little bit of red in a photo can attract a lot of attention.

I first learned about the power of red as a kid while reading National Geographic. Their photographers would often put a person who was wearing a red jacket in their landscape shots, and that red jacket would capture my attention every time. So when Margrethe said she had a little red dress she could wear for a Postcards For A Dancer shoot, I immediately thought of putting her in a natural setting while wearing it.

Red is also a tricky colour for digital photographers: it is the hue the computers have a lot of difficulty properly handling. In fact, the odds are very good that the reds you will see here are not the same reds that I see on my monitor. Still, Margrethe and I were so happy with the results from our shoot and we wanted to share it.

The location for the shoot was Sognsvann. I had taken a few landscape shots there the previous week when I noticed the rising sunlight reflecting off the trees and onto the water like I had never seen before.


What is remarkable is that the light coming off the water is decidedly yellow-orange. This is normal in the fall when the leaves turn this shade, but here it is coming off evergreen trees - trees that do not change colour in the fall. Yet these evergreen trees look just like their deciduous cousins, such is the power of the rising sun!

As nice as this photo is, I thought that a dancer in a red dress amongst all that yellow would be something really special.

The light would be best about 30 minutes after official sunrise. At that time, the sun would be just starting to clear the tree tops on the near side of the pond. So I thought we should be there about 45 minutes ahead of this time in order for Margrethe to warm up and stretch, and for me to get my gear set up. We worked quickly and were all ready to go 15 minutes ahead of time. Rather than sit around in the cold, we decided to shoot and see what we could get.

I looked east, towards the rising sun and away from my planned direction of shooting. I saw that the moon was still high in the twilight sky. Margrethe went out to the end of a small wharf to strike a pose, and I hid my Elinchrom Quadra behind the trees at the end of the wharf to light her and the wharf. It was quite cold and there was a heavy frost on the wharf. The frost really made the wharf stand out.

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I find that everything is so quiet and peaceful this early in the morning. Being outdoors and watching everything come to life is definitely the best way to start the day.

I had some issues with the Elinchrom trigger. It wasn't powerful enough to punch through the trees and the light fired only one in every 4 or 5 shots. I moved down to the wharf and shot with the Quadra right next to me. This solved the flaky trigger issue and with a hard light at my side, we were able to create a nice, dramatic shadow on the thick, white frost. The frost was heavy enough for us to be worried about Margrethe's footing, so we stuck to compositions that did not involve jumping. The white frost also complemented the red in the dress.

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The frost on the wharf made it hard to balance. Jumping would probably have led to a wet and cold(er) start to the morning! It’s a good thing we didn’t go crazy to begin this shoot!

By this time, the sun was peaking up over the horizon, casting a very warm light onto the fir trees on the other side of the pond. So with the first light just starting to reflect onto the water, Margrethe went out to pose by the swimmer's ladder. It was still dark enough to require a splash of light from the Quadra to make her stand out from the dark water, but the yellows were starting to make their presence felt.

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This was a beautiful location: the sun and bright colors were reflecting in the water and mist on the surface of the pond. While beautiful, it was at the same time probably the most challenging location to shoot. To move, and to move gracefully, on a frosty wharf was not easy. It got easier to move when I used the ladder as support, as a counterbalance, but the ladder was ice-cold, so it had its own challenges! It was almost like dancing with a partner - but a really cold one.

We continued to shoot as the sun rose higher over the trees. Its light became brighter and brighter, and the reflections changed from a dirty orange to a bright yellow. Margrethe placed herself as close to those yellows as she could. Note that in this shot the temperature is only a few degrees above freezing, yet she has a hand and a foot in the water! The lengths to which we go just to create art!

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Believe it or not, the temperature in the water was actually a bit warmer than the air. It was almost a relief to put my hands and feet down into the water.

We left the north end of the pond and walked south. The path took us behind a dense stand of trees, and there was a marsh still sheltered from the sun's warm light. All of the plants in the marsh were still heavily coated with frost, and the light in this patch was still very muted; only a very small shaft of warm yellow light was poking through a hole in the trees. We thought it would make for an ideal environment to again show how red can totally dominate an image.

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The trees and grass were covered in ice crystals and the small beam of light on the frost made it seem as if we were in a fairytale.

When we reached the south end of the pond, the sun was well above the tree line and the sky had turned blue. We found a small patch of frost that still had not melted, although a shaft of warm sunlight was about to make quick work of dispatching it! We had time for a few more poses and this is the one Margrethe selected to go with the Little Red Dress Series.

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This was the perfect location to end the photo shoot. By now, the sun had begun to warm things up a bit and it was much more comfortable (and easier) to move. Movement, of course, is very important for a dancer!

This shoot was remarkable because of the change in temperature from start to finish. When the temperature changes, the environment changes with it and the different environments kept giving me new impulses and ideas. It was very inspirational!

I'm very happy we managed to get so many great shots on a single theme. Not that these shots came easily. The early rise, the heavy equipment, and the cold were all challenges that we had to overcome. I want to thank Margrethe for her dedication and hard work. I think you will agree with me that it paid off!


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Grass Roots Square

Grass Roots Square 6I heard about an exhibit at the corner of Teatergata and Munchs gate called Grass Roots Square. The artist is Do Ho Suh of Korea, not someone I am familiar with. Wikipedia says he explores the relationship between individuality, collectivity, and anonymity. This exhibit was jury selected and in his submission to the jury, Do-Ho says "Grass Roots Square is at ground level, the same level of the plaza and the public. It is at this level, the grass roots level, where you can truly understand a community."

I thought I would stop by and have a look.

Do-Ho Suh started working in the outer corner of the square and worked inwards a short ways. The tree is part of the exhibit and was planted at the time the sculptures were installed.

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Business today consists in persuading crowds. ~ T.S. Elliot

The green you see amongst the stonework are small bronze figurines and they very much look like grass sprouting up.

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Youth doesn't need friends - it only needs crowds. ~ Zelda Fitzgerald

The figures are quite detailed and I couldn't see any repeated figures, although I am not certain they are all unique.

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The 'wisdom of the crowds' is the most ridiculous statement I've heard in my life. Crowds are dumb. ~ Drew Curtis

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With the crowds on your side, it's easier to play up to your potential. - Julius Erving

In some cases, the figures are underneath the stones. In others, they are in the open. A few even line the seams between the stones.

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The future belongs to crowds. ~ Don DeLillo

The tree is a nice touch and blends in with the sculpture.

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The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it. ~ Terry Pratchett

When photographing a small subject like this, I have to be careful about perspective. Perspective is a funny thing. We need something to give us a reference, a sense of scale, which depends upon perspective. In this shot, there is only the tree, but since we do not know how big the tree is, it is difficult to judge the size of the figures.

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"If everyone you knew jumped off a bridge, would you too?” Dr. Roger asked.

David had heard this before and knew you were supposed to say no. But was that really true? If everyone jumped off a bridge, maybe there was a good reason. Maybe the bridge was on fire. If anything, the guy who didn’t jump was the crazy one.
~ John M. Cusick

If I add a person to the composition, then you usually get a much better idea of the size. However, in this case the person is so far away as to appear to be the same height as the figures!

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And this that you call solitude is in fact a big crowd. ~ Dejan Stojanovic

If I add in a person very close to the figures, then you have a much better sense of how small they are. In this case, they appear downright Lilliputian!

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I walked with them, as crowds have that effect on me, I want to do what they do, to journey towards some point of revelation, which of course never comes. ~ Neil Jordan

The exhibit is quite popular, judging by the number of people who stop by to look and to take some snaps. Which included me, of course!

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We are more wicked together than separately. If you are ever forced to be in a crowd, then most of all you should withdraw into yourself. Never trust another to do your thinking. ~ Jeff Wheeler

Do-Ho Suh's work is brilliantly executed; the figures are really neat, and are done on a scale that is really interesting. But overall, I did not get the sense of community he said he was trying to achieve. When I think of community, I think of working together to move things forward. I think activity, motion. I did not think of that when I looked at this work.

Instead, I saw people aimlessly standing around waiting for something to happen. I saw crowds. I don't have very pleasant thoughts when I think of crowds. I have trouble with how crowds behave and how they think. Even in the workplace I have trouble with "group think", and I find the term common sense deeply offensive.

Whenever anyone says to me that something is "only common sense", I point out that "common" sense once held that people were not meant to fly, that "common" sense used to dictate that the world was flat, that it was "only common sense" that the sun, the moon, and the stars all revolved around the Earth, and that "common sense" used to allow women to be burned at the stake because "common sense" said they were witches.

I suspect that my own biases got in the way of finding the community theme Do-Ho was trying to impart. This made me think about my own work and how people perceive it. I'm pretty confident that not everyone reacts positively to all of my photographs, or even has a reaction at all! I came up with my own mnemonic for keeping this lesson in mind as I work. It is a twist on a famous photographer's quote: "Every photograph needs two people; the photographer and the viewer."*

*The original quote is from Ansel Adams. He said: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”


Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Paris Autoshow

2012 Paris Auto Show 70While I have attended a lot of tradeshows in my time, I had never attended the Paris Auto Show (PAS) until this past fall. I was curious to see how it stacked up against the likes of CES, COMDEX, SuperCOM, and NAB.

In terms of floor space, PAS (96,000 sq.m.) is about half the size of CES (178,373 sq. m.). It's difficult to judge something by its floorspace, though. Take this Paris apartment building elevator; I prefer to consider it as a "personal" sized elevator, not small. It still will get you to where you need to go.

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As if to make up for the smaller floor space, PAS is open 18 days while CES is only open 4 days. The extra opening hours help PAS eclipse CES in terms of attendance: 1,200,000 visitors to 153,000 visitors. Granted, PAS is open to the public whereas CES is a closed show. Still, 1.2 million people is a lot of people to have walking by your booth and it is certainly something Show Captains have to take into account.

For example, it might be a good idea to design your booth to include rest areas. Marketing will pay for it if you put a touch screen display in front of a comfy bean bag chair! Why, I bet a lot of people would have a look at your message while they rest their tired dogs!

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It's also a good idea to arrange your booth as a theatre, since people jammed around your booth won't otherwise be able to see. Either elevate your booth, elevate your walkways, or do a combination of both! Magic! I wish the guys at COMDEX had thought of this back in the day.

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Show Captains need to keep the traffic flowing on their booth, so that people can climb in and check out the goods.

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With that kind of traffic on your booth, you need dedicated staff to keep it clean during show hours.

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Being open for that long, and dealing with that many people, means relaxed dress codes for your booth staff; there's no way anyone is doing an 18-day show in heels.

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Relaxed doesn't mean jeans and t-shirts though!

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But unlike CES, there are no booth babes here, unless you count the torque-n-horsepower kind! This show is all about the car.

Small cars...

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Solar cars...

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Concept cars...

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High performance electric cars...

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High performance fuel cars...

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And luxury cars...

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There are some interesting side stories at a show like this. Like how the smaller exhibitors attract traffic. Some used booth pups...

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Some used merchandising....

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Others used nostalgia....

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At this point, I have to digress for a moment, because while walking around Paris I saw an Amphicar! This German amphibious car is an icon of the 1960's and I had never seen one in person.

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If you look under the rear bumper you can see the twin propellers that it uses while in the water.

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Given what a collector's item this car is, I was surprised to see it on the rear of a river barge.

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While at the Paris Auto Show, I noticed there was a lot of chrome, which can make for some interesting black and white compositions. I will close off this blog post with some of those images.

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Other posts from this trip were:
What I See, Part 4 - The Streets Of Paris Redux
What I See, Part 3 - A Short Walk Through Paris


* not that I have even done a 1-day show in heels!