Graffiti–Is it Art?


Waiting for a plane in Paris….

My journey to the Northwest Passage had a few preliminary steps required to actually reach the vessel on which we would make this expedition.  Step 1 was to fly to Paris where we would connect with the charter flight that would take us to Kangerlussuak, Greenland, where our ship would be docked.  This charter would be the sole opportunity to get there. To ensure we did not miss the connection, we scheduled our flight from Washington to arrive in Paris 3 days before the charter’s departure date.

Luckily, the first step was uneventful and so we had some extra time to explore one of our favorite cities.  Friends who are spending a month here this summer invited us to join them on a tour of street art in the 13th Arrondissement.  Perfect!  We knew next to nothing about street art and even less about the 13th Arrondissement.

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Our guide (center), the i-Tele camera man (left) and members of our group

For map buffs, our starting point was 29 Rue de la Butte aux Cailles.  After a pleasant lunch at Chez Nenesse (we had a lengthy chat with Clement Boyer, who bought the place about a year ago), we joined our guide Jean Christoph who was being interviewed by French television (i-Tele).  Apparently our group would be followed for a feature show on less well known tourist attractions.

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The above image has been spared by municipal cleaners who have been instructed by local authorities to paint around certain works.  But other graffiti-ists have left “tags,” one obnoxiously (the X-mark on the subject’s face) and one as a humorous response (the smiley face to the right.

First, we learned some terminology (apologies to Jean and others who know what they are talking about—I did not take notes).  Tagging, graffiti, and street art are different components of painting things on public spaces which is almost always illegal.  Tagging can be defined as a basic form of graffiti where the writer would sign his name or signature with the usage of spray paint.  While tagging is more of a representation of self, graffiti or street art is a painting or other medium that can be seen as an artistic expression (or at least an attempt at such), a graphic design, or socio-political commentary.

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The stenciled text is an example of graffiti as political commentary, this one in reaction to the recent terrorist events in France.

Since its origins in the 1980s and earlier, street art has become increasingly accepted in many places, especially in locations such as the 13th arrondissement of Paris. A number of street artists have become internationally known, such as American Shepard Fairey who is best known for his iconic “Hope” graphic image of Barrack Obama.  His story is summarized by Wikipedia.

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Commissioned works by two Street Artists (Shepard Fairey  with “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” at upper right and C 215 with the painting of the cat)

A French artist known as “invader” does not reveal his true name and who works with tile and grout rather than spray paint favored by the vast majority of street artists.  More about him can be found here.    His name is derived from the Atari video game “Space Invader” and his tile “invaders” can be found all over Europe and in a number of other countries. A map is on his website

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There is much more, but I have a plane to catch.  This may be my last post for a month, but who knows?  In the meantime…..

Keep Shooting…..



Arctic Journey


In just a few days, I will be departing on a month-long journey that will take me into the Arctic Circle, along the west coast of Greenland, through the Northwest Passage, across the northern shores of Alaska, through the Bering Strait and ultimately to Nome, Alaska.  After being in Antarctica last year, it was inevitable that I would find my way to the northern Polar Regions.

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Google Satellite Image

This route was not really possible until recently because the Arctic Archipelago, through which we must pass, was choked year-round with sea ice.  But the steady rise in global temperatures has changed that situation as shown in this NASA video.   There are various routes through the Archipelago; our route will follow the track of the ill-fated John Franklin Expedition of 1846.  (See image below)  Anyone interested in the history of this epic search might check James P. Delgado’s definitive work, “Across the Top of the Word: The Quest for the Northwest Passage.”

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Our Planned Route

(Note: The Mercator map projection above distorts the size of Greenland; it’s actual size equals about 28% of the continental USA)

Early exploration for a more direct route from Europe to the Orient began in the 16th Century, yet the first successful passage by boat was not achieved until 1906 and that trip, led by Roald Admundsen took 3 years.  It was another 36 years before the next successful effort, this time by Henry Larsen, and that also took three years.  In both cases, the expeditions were forced to spend the winter in the passage after being trapped by the sea ice.  The first commercial passenger ship to make it through was the M/S Explorer in 1984.  The Explorer’s journey was organized by Lars-Eric Lindblad, who had pioneered sea tourism in Antarctica on the same ship in 1969.

Aside from innumerable icebergs in various sizes and shapes, we will pass vast tundra plains, low lying bogs, sharply pitched arctic mountain ranges, and bituminous shale fires that have been burning for hundreds of years. We hope to capture images of all this as well as wildlife such as Narwhals, Beluga and Humpback whales, Polar Bears, Musk Oxen, Arctic Fox, and a variety of migrating birds.

As with last year’s Antarctica trip, the amount of photo gear one can take is limited by carry-on restrictions for the flight to the embarkation port (Kangerlussuak, Greenland).  The final leg has 5 kg limit (11 pounds) for carry-on and putting any of the essential items in checked baggage is never a good plan.  The duration of this trip is about 4 times longer (23 days from Kangerlussuak to Nome Alaska).  For one thing that means I’ll need more memory cards.  I also will be taking a tripod and a computer, two items that were not with me in Antarctica.  Those will be packed in my checked baggage along with a few other accessories.  Should they fail to make it to Kangerlussuak, it won’t be fatal.

It’s likely we will have little or no internet connectivity during this journey, so it may be a while before another post appears in this space or I am able to check on the posts of my fellow bloggers.  Until then…..

….Keep Shooting!

One Photo Focus-Augsut 2016

One the first Friday of each month, Stacy Fischer’s AfterBefore Friday Forum invites all participants to work their magic on the same image–an image that is selected by one of the participants in advance.  Hence the title of the event is “One Photo Focus.”  It happens that this month I am the one supplying the image and I can’t wait to see what creative license is taken with it by the other participants.  Their creations can be found at Visual Venturing and I hope everyone will check them out.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 Original Raw Version)

Original Raw Image — Unprocessed

The original image (above) was taken during a recent trip to London.  I’m sure everyone recognizes the iconic London Eye, a 443-foot-high Ferris wheel, erected in 1999.  The building to the right is London County Hall which served as the city of London’s seat of government through most of the 20th century.  It now houses a variety of tourist attractions and an upscale hotel. The photo was taken from the Westminster Bridge and, if one looked 90 degrees to the left one would see an even more iconic scene, the buildings of Parliament and the grand tower with the famous clock known as Big Ben.

I decided to take the straight approach this time and stayed away from my favorite sandbox, AKA the Filter Gallery.  I followed my normal workflow by using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to set the black and white points, increase the clarity and vibrance a bit, and then opened it in Photoshop.  Once in Photoshop, the tilt of the big wheel was annoying so a slight adjustment with the Transform function (Edit->Transform) was used to fix the problem. There was also a smudge-like apparition in the clouds left of the wheel’s center that needed removal. These adjustments are shown in the image below.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 Color Version)

Image after ACR and Basic Clean-up in Photoshop

Thinking what to do for One PhotoFocus, I thought he dark clouds seemed to be the most dramatic feature.  One possibility that seemed promising was to take advantage of those clouds in a black and white photograph.  This was accomplished with an Adjustment Layer (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Black and White.  The High Contrast Red Filter preset was used to further emphasize the clouds.Finally I used a mask and a curves adjustment layer to strengthen the contrast of the water and the right half of the building.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 BW Version)

Final Image

Thanks once again to Stacy Fischer for keeping our merry band of post processors on track.  Please visit her site at Visual Venturing to see the creative imaginations of the other participants.