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…..



Return to the Living

There was a good news story in Washington, DC today.  The Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain, situated at the apex of the Federal Triangle complex in downtown Washington, is now operating again after an 8-year hiatus.  In a special ceremony this morning, the 75th anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, the fountain burst back to life in dramatic fashion.

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Mellon Memorial Fountain, Running Again

Designed in a style similar to a fountain in Genoa, Italy, the Mellon Memorial Fountain consists of three nested bronze basins, from which water cascades into a low granite-curbed pool, measuring 55 feet, 4 inches in diameter. Water is supplied from the central jet or plume, and flows from the two top tiers into largest and deepest of the bronze basins. The water is kept at a constant level by sophisticated controls and is tempered and smoothed by means of a bronze baffle, so that when it finally pours over the lip of the basin, it becomes a clear transparent sheet of water.

Cast by Roman Bronze Works and General Bronze Corporation in 1952, it is thought that this was the largest bronze fountain known at the time of construction. The material is known as statuary bronze—a quaternary alloy made of copper, zinc, tin, and lead, and traditionally golden brown in color.

Sidney Waugh, commissioned to design the reliefs for the lowest basin, created twelve high-relief symbols of the zodiac that were cast in bronze and applied to the fluted wall. The sign of Aries is situated so that the sun shines on Aries on March 21—the vernal equinox.

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Sunrise, Mellon Fountain

(Photographed today as the rising sun illuminated the basin and the Aires symbol)

I first photographed the fountain six years ago, after I learned about its relationship to the solar cycle.  I visited at sunrise on the morning of that year’s spring equinox and was saddened by its pathetic condition.  I have always been hopeful that it would someday be brought back to life.  The photograph below provides a rough idea of its condition in 2010.

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Sunrise on Vernal Equinox, March 2010

The fountain and surrounding triangular park, which are dedicated to Gallery founder Andrew W. Mellon, had been the responsibility of the National Park Service.  But in September 2015 custody was transferred to the National Gallery of Art.   The rapidity of the renovation under the aegis of the National Gallery is impressive.

According to the Gallery’s press office, their conservators worked with Washington-area firm Conservation Solutions, Inc. to assist in carrying out the treatment on the bronze fountain. In order to preserve the bronze patina while removing a green mineralization buildup, the team used a special method of blasting dry ice (CO2) on the metal surface instead of using strong chemicals or an aggressive mechanical process to remove the multiple corrosion layers. The process revealed a stunning surface, with original brushstrokes of protective wax visible across the bronze. Several layers of a new protective wax coating were added to help preserve the bronze surface. Annual maintenance will be carried out in the winter when the fountain is not operating.

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Throwing the Switch

Special thanks to my photo colleague, Michele, who alerted me to this event and to gracious staff at the National Gallery who invited me to attend their press briefing and rededication ceremony.  More can be learned about the history of the fountain here.  Information about the origins of the National Gallery of Art can be found here.

Hidden Gems:  Hartford’s Sculpture Walk at Riverfront

Tomorrow’s meeting wasn’t going to start until 9:30 AM and the hotel was a 2-minute walk from the Connecticut River.  A quick check of The Photographer’s Ephemeris app revealed there would be an opportunity for a sunrise illumination (at 7:05 AM) of the Hartford skyline across the river.  OK, set the alarm for 6:15 AM.

Arriving at the river’s edge the next mornioing about 20 minutes before sunrise, I had a few minutes to check things out and noticed a stairway leading up to Founders Bridge. At the top of the stairs,there was a magnificent pedestrian walkway, wide enough for a car and way better than anything we have in Washington.

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Founders Bridge, Hartford Connecticut

And it turned out this was no ordinary promenade.  It was part of the Lincoln Sculpture Walk that follows a course through two riverside parks, one on each side of the river.  Made possible by a $500,000 donation from the Lincoln Financial Group, a local firm, it features 15 permanent sculptures dedicated to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. Those who know my photography know that the Lincoln Memorial is one of my favorite subjects.

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“Emancipation,” by Preston Jackson

This sculpture, “Emancipation,” was fortuitously (for me) placed right a few steps from the stairway landing.  It is one of two works in the Sculpture Walk by Preston Jackson, a prominent African American artist from the Art Institute of Chicago.  It depicts a female slave carrying her infant and a few possessions toward freedom.  The soft illumination of the twilight minutes before the sunrise seemed to underscore the power of the work.

As the sun edged above the horizon, the colors began to illuminate the city’s skyline.  The image below was captured one minute after sunrise.

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Sunrise View of Hartford from Founders Bridge

But I could see that there were might be more potential down below along the river’s edge and I retreated down the stairway and found a good spot to wait. My luck continued as a series of clouds continued moving in from the west and the light breeze began to subside.  And sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the golden light reached its peak.

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As I walked back to the hotel, it seemed that going out for a morning walk was a lot better than sleeping in.


Keep Shooting…..


Bethesda Fountain, Central Park

First, an apology to my fellow contributors at ABFriday Forum for publishing a dead link to the Week 23 Forum a few days ago.  It couldn’t have happened at a worst time because this week featured the long-anticipated annoucement of the “Reader’s Poll” whereby all readers can vote for the image they would most like to see undergo post-processing by 11 different photographers. Worse yet, I was traveling without a computer and could not repair the damage until now.  Here is the actual and, hopefully, correct link: ABFriday Week 23.  The poll will remain open until midnight Wednesday November 4th.

And now back to the normal program:

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Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, New York City

The Bethesda Fountain is topped by the Angel of the Waters statue, the only statue that was commissioned for Central Park.  According to the park’s website, the fountain commemorates the Croton water system, which first brought fresh water to New York City in 1842. The angel carries a lily in her left hand — a symbol of the water’s purity, very important to a city that had previously suffered from a devastating cholera epidemic before the system was established. It was created by Emma Stebbins, the first time a woman received a public art commission in New York City.


2014 Studio Tour

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Every year in the fall, the artists of Great Falls, Virginia hold an Open Studio weekend, inviting the public into their studios to learn about their art, their techniques, and why they are so dedicated to the creation of visual art.  This year, more than 50 members of Great Falls Studios are participating in this event which will be held this year on 17-19 October from 10 AM to 5 PM each day.  My studio (see images below) will be one of those open and I hope followers of my blog who live in the Washington, DC area will be able to drop by.

But there are 49 other artists as well and information about the tour and each of the participants can be found at the 2014 Great Falls Studio Tour website.  Information is provided about each of the participants so you can design your own itinerary and see works of painters, potters, photographers, jewelers, sculptors, fiber artists, and other media depending on your interests.  The site has a page with links to maps that can be downloaded.  Or you can start at the Studio Tour Headquarters in the Great Falls Library and see actual samples of work from each of our participants, ask questions from our representative who will be there, and pick up a map that will guide you through the roads and byways of Great Falls to the studio locations.  The library, normally closed on Sundays, has graciously agreed to be open on October 19th for this event.

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Printing and Matting Area, Lower Studio

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Gallery, Upper Studio

I hope to see you here.