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Looking Back: A Retrospective on a Trip to Argentina, 1987

While looking through old photo files recently I came upon a folder of several scans made from Kodachrome slides. These slides were all taken in Argentina in 1987 mostly on Kodachrome 200 film with Nikon film cameras. The occasion of the trip was to investigate a document the Christian religious revival sweeping across the country at that time following the fall of the dictatorship, a subject of at least one movie. AS I looked through these images, just a sampling of the hundred of pictures still on film, it interested me to see which images I had chosen to scan into my digital files. I did take many shots of scenes like this one, mostly in the seven cities I visited.

Horse drawn cart and cars, Argentina, 1987

Scenes like this one appeal naturally to North American travelers who do not often see such a combination of horse drawn carts and cars.
But what struck me most powerfully was the clear preference I had and have for the pictures of people, especially individuals young and old.This one most especially continues to get my attention.
Argentina girl at an outdoor religious meeting, 1987. The lights in the background are bare bulbs.

This striking portrait of a girl attending an open air meeting continues to speak to me. Her soul seems to be showing, or is it mine? given that this was thirty years ago, and she appears to be in the vicinity of ten years old . . . you do the math as it is now the summer of 2017 as I write this. Is she alive? What has become of her? What about those she was with that night –the fact of night signified by the bare bulb lights seen in the background. But the first shot I took shows her in the crowd, and the close portrait of her followed.
Argentina, 1987

As I continued to look through those old files time after time it was the people shots that engaged me and continue to draw out my own soul, and curiosity. Some of these, I suspect, are no longer here. What did these clearly intense moments mean to them then, and subsequently?

Argentina, 1987

Argentina, 1987

These two images show people behind a chain link fence because the meeting was being held in a large boxing arena where the fans were evidently kept by from the ring.

Argentina, 1987
An outdoor Christian worship service in Argentina, March, 1987.

These were from a large open air meeting at night, I believe the same meeting attended by the girl in the earlier picture. It was a preaching and healing service. It was both inspiring and sad simultaneously.

Man on knees in a large Christian meeting in an athletic arena in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1987

But again my tendency was to focus on individuals and faces where possible. It is in the faces we experience the wonder of the human soul, the magic of this creature beyond earthly compare, and perhaps unique in the entire grand cosmos.
Argentina, 1987

An outdoor Christian worship service in Argentina, March, 1987.

And there were the children. These often late night meetings always included children as families attended together.
The churches were mostly Roman Catholic at the time, and people came to them to pray as do people everywhere. But the Protestants were busy building new churches. The man working with concrete was helping to build one of the new, and quite large Protestant churches.

Man in prayer at a church in Santa Fe, Argentina, 1987.
A workman mixing cement for a new Protestant church in Rosario, Argentina (March, 1987)

Pictures serve us in many ways. These record a place in history. I wrote about it in the now defunct Eternity Magazine after I returned to the states. But for me these photos are more than outward history. They represent a time in my own life with which I associate many other things. I have written a little abut this in an earlier blog, but now I find these files hold a special place in my heart as I continue through unforgiving time to appreciate afresh the wonder of being human in a world of both magic and suffering.


Today I added a new category to this photography web site. It is called Projects. In the drop down menu I will be showing the photographic projects I am currently working on. For now it just has the one that I have been doing for a while on the small historic town of Mt. Gilead, North Carolina. At this point it is a combination of street photography and documentary photography. Other projects will be added in the future. Take a look and let me know what you think.
Old retired water tower in Mount Gilead, North Carolina.

Review: The World Atlas of Street Photography

This book took me by surprise when I first saw it on Amazon. In the first place it is not published by a traditional photo publisher; but rather, by a university press. Furthermore, it is filled mostly with photographers that I have never heard of, even though I thought that I was more or less up to date on the street photographer scene. Don’t get me wrong there are some well known names here such as, Joel Meyerowitz and Bruce Gilden. But since this is a world atlas we get here an exposure, such as I have never seen anyplace else, to the whole wide earth of men and women who are hunting the urban landscapes for fine photo opportunities. As the book’s introduction puts it, “. . . the book reflects on the endless and diverse appeal of the urban landscape to artists.” (p. 10)
The organization of this oversized tome is geographical. The major divisions are: North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia. Within each division are subdivisions featuring major cities, like New York, Mexico City, London, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Beijing and Delhi to name some. Within the cities individual photographers are introduced with a small sample of photos and a page or so of commentary and quotations. In the back there is a helpful index of the contents.
The quality of the photo reproductions if fine and much more of it is in color than black and white. To be more specific there are 500 color and 140 black and whites. The quality of the images chosen varies widely as do the styles. There is something here for every photographer to love, and to hate. It certainly is a good place for street photographers, especially beginners, to see how diverse is this genre, for which one might be either encouraged or dismayed. It should also be noted that this is not a history of street photography, though historical persons are mentioned from time to time. The focus here is upon presently working photographers both professional and amateur. It most certainly is a good addition to a well developed street photography library.
The World Atlas of Street Photography
By Jackie Higgins. Yale University Press, 400 pages.

Book Review: The Street Photographer’s Manual

Review: David Gibson. The Street Photographer’s Manual. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

As I said in the previous post, I began doing a little street photography before I knew the terminology for it, and before I saw any books about it. Yes, others were doing it, and they knew what they were doing. Some of them had published books like The Decisive Moment,and The Americans. But I was busy with family and career and was unfortunately ignorant of all that. Now times have changed. There is so much interest in street photography that Facebook has automatically generated a page with the title. (I didn’t know they do that!). The book Street Photography Now was the first I read that was specific to this movement. Now others are being published as interest expands.
David Gibson is one of the founding members of the international collective of street photographers called In-Public, which was founded in 2000. This book draws on his wide personal experience with this genre as well as his acquaintance with its history and with other practitioners. In fact there are pages with representative photos from twenty other photographer interspersed throughout the text. This book would be a wonderful introduction for a street beginner, and I wish I had seen such a book 20 years ago. However, the more experienced and inter-mediate level shooter will also enjoy it both for its suggestions and its examples.
The book is laid out in five chapters with simple one-word titles: Busy, Quiet, Abstract, Still and Subjects. Within each chapter are what he calls Projects. These are the meat of the book. They suggest a wide spectrum of types of photography that suggest the truth of the dictum that street photography is just photography. This is not a book about equipment or the technicalities of the art. Very little is said about cameras after a few brief statements. The pictures, and there are many, do not give f-stops and camera information. Gibson does not consider this a how-to book despite the fact that the 20 Projects in the book provide a good set of starting points for anyone interested or engaged in this genre of photography. Still, there are some technical suggestions offered from time to time. Each Project concludes with practical tips, so the person looking for some how-to advice will not be disappointed, while the person of experience who just wishes to engage more of the community of street photographers will be benefited as well.

Argentina, 1987

In 1987 I was not conversant with the terminology of street photography. Yet before I knew the language I was beginning to practice the form. Thinking about this lately led me back into my files for street type pictures that I took on a three week trip to Argentina in 1987. This was in the early phases of the rise of democracy in that country, and a substantial religious revival that spread throughout the land. Much of what I took (hundreds of color slides only a few of which have been scanned to digital) involved following these religious meetings through seven cities beginning in Buenos Aires.
Santa Fe was also on my agenda.
The meetings were often in the open air attracting dense crowds and included all ages even late into the night.
An outdoor Christian worship service in Argentina, March, 1987.
Argentina, 1987
Some meetings were indoors, often at facilities generally used for athletic events. Emotions and personal engagement were often intense.
Argentina, 1987
Argentina, 1987
When possible I focused on individuals and I was interested to see how the children participated and observed these meetings.
Argentina, 1987
Argentina, 1987
Some of the action was on construction sites as efforts were made to build new facilities sufficient to house the new religious communities.
As I look back it now seems to me that this was my first significant introduction to street photography before I was aware of the vocabulary, or had even begun to reflect on the subject. It was an intense experience that helped to shape both my photography and my views of human life.
Man in prayer at a church in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Argentina, 1987
“The eye is not filled with seeing, neither is the ear filled with hearing.” — Ecclesiastes

Cameras I have used for “Street Photography”

Others have observed that no camera is perfect, and none is forever. That is probably more true today with the proliferation of digital variants than ever before. So I got to thinking about all the cameras I have used for street photography since I began that type of work. I began with what I had on hand, a Nikon D700 with a 28mm lens.
At that time I also had a Nikon D7000 that I used once in a while for street. But the more serious camera, one that I bought specifically for street was the Fujifilm x100. That camera was my true introduction to candid street photography, as I believe it remains for many.
After a while I switched to Sony cameras. I began with the NEX 5 and quickly moved to the NEX 6 and finally the NEX 7 that was used for these two shots.
Grey bearded man on bench, uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.
MATTIE'S DINER, Charlotte, North Carolina.
During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was using mostly the Fujifilm XPro-1 with which I took hundred of pictures during that week and beyond.
Wells Fargo building, uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.
Still experimenting, I tried for a while to use the Sony A99. It is a fine camera with an excellent sensor. However it proved much too bulky for my taste. Here are some samples nevertheless from that system.
Street corner preacher in Albemarle, North Carolina.
One of the best cameras I ever used for street photography was the Sony RX-1. It shared the same full-frame sensor as the A99 but with a much more compact design and a fine fixed 35mm lens. I used it extensively during some trips to New York City. In silent mode it is a true stealth camera.
Old Army veteran on the Statin Island Ferry, New York City.

Today I use the Nikon Df and the Leica M(240). For now I am very content with these friends.(As there are dedicated pages for each of these cameras on this site I will forgo posting any samples from these here) Between them, with an assortment of lenses they meet all my photographic needs. The moral of this story is one you have probably heard a hundred times. Ultimately it is not the camera that takes the pictures. It is the photographer. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for experimenting until you find the camera system that suits your tastes, your budget and your style of shooting. That is why no one, no matter how much experience they have in the field, is qualified to dictate to others what camera they should use for Street Photography.

[I plan soon to review here two recently published books on street photography, so come on back to check that out.]

The Gossamer Envelope in Which We Live

Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
The earth’s atmosphere is said to be 300 miles thick, but most of it, the part that interests us the most, is just 10 miles thick. Current estimates suggest that there are between 100 and 200 billion galaxies in the universe, (some estimates say 500 billion) each with hundreds of billions of stars. In all that vastness just possibly there is another world with an atmosphere like ours, but maybe not. Maybe we are the only place in that vast expanse that has skies like ours. Or if there are others, perhaps we are the only one with people who look up and admire the wonderfully changeful sky.I look up a lot, and I photograph the sky a lot. Mind you I also look down, and I find both directions fascinating.
Dragonfly, resting.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Today we had one of those weather patterns here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina that produced constantly changing skies. These are the days made for artists. The ten miles of atmosphere that displays the beautiful cloud formations we love to look at is but an insignificant diaphanous film even within our solar system, not to mention the entire cosmos. Yet what beauty, what fuel for the imagination, what magnificence!
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.

All of these sky photos were taken today with the Nikon Df and the Leica M(240).

Robert Adams

Robert Adams, former English teacher turned photographer, has been described as a philosopher of photography. His two books, Beauty in Photography and Why People Photograph, certainly authenticate his credentials. Of the two I especially appreciate the former. He argues that form is the essence of beauty, and makes this claim about its importance: “Why is form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.” (pg. 25) There is a touch of existentialism in his position as he notes, I believe rightly, that, “With a camera, one has to love individual cases. A photographer can describe a better world only by better seeing the world as it is in front of him.” (pg. 26) Furthermore, “Photography can always be new, because the surface of life keeps changing.” (pg. 84) Perhaps this is part of the attraction of street photography today. This is a small book of only 108 pages published by Aperture, and it is surely worth the read.
Why People Photograph is a collection of essays written since the publication of Beauty in Photography. If you were to come to this book hoping for an answer to the question, why do people photograph you would be disappointed. These are essays and reviews written, as the forward says, “for a variety of occasions.” As with the former book he ranges widely in quoting from his own readings; Aristotle, Aquinas, William Carlos Williams, C. S. Lewis and Keats, to name a few. And as with the former, there are wonderful quotable lines like, “A saints gift to us is a life, but an artist’s is mainly a vision.” (pg. 90) Again, “Art does not deny that evil is real but it places evil in a context that implies an affirmation . . .” (pg. 181)
Both of these books will reward the thoughtful reader whether a photographer or one who simply appreciates the arts.
[This is a simultaneous post on both of my blogs.]

Review: Imagine

Commenting on a line in the well-known Christian hymn, Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus; the line that says, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,” Steve Turner makes this poignant point: “This can lead people to wonder why God bothered to create the physical world and its enjoyments if we can only be truly fulfilled by escaping them.” (Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts. p 57) Yes, we might wonder indeed. As a photographic artist and Christian, I have sought out mature reflections on the relationships between my desire to photograph and my desire to know God in Christ. When I played basketball at a Christian college many, many years ago, I once spoke with our coach, a fine Christian man, about the relationship between our Christian faith and our sport. He replied that basketball is just something Christians do. I was satisfied with that answer at the time but I do not find it satisfying in my attempts to produce art with the camera. Is it only something I do, like mowing the lawn, or driving my car?
Steve Turner has spent many years as a writer and poet, and has been heavily involved in the music industry. He has written books about Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and The Beatles, to name a few. So when he sets out to write about the arts he has established his credentials. This is a slim book written from a solid Christian theological perspective. It celebrates true creativity wherever it is found. It promotes the full engagement of talented people of faith with the creative world on the grounds that all creativity is ultimately a gift of God. He notes that, “Each time Christ performed a human activity, he was blessing it.” (p. 60) Art requires no more justification than the creation and the incarnation.
Turner is not happy with the tendency in some Christian circles to think that all art by Christians requires some sort of explicit reference to the Bible or theology. As he puts it, “The best art doesn’t tell people what to believe but enables them, for a short while, to see things differently, and the Christian can enable people to momentarily glimpse the world through eyes that have been touched by Christ.” (pp 115, 116) This is an exciting book for me, and one I heartily recommend to any religious person who wants to reflect upon the arts and faith issues.

[Steve Turner. Imagine:A Vision for Christians in the Arts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001. 131 pages.]