Seasons Change: Glover-Archbold Community Garden

I have mixed feelings about the Glover-Archbold Community Garden, located a few blocks from my home and half-surrounded by Rock Creek Park.

glover park community gardens

Photo: Lydia Polimeni

In the summer I envy the gardeners, working away under their sunhats with trowel and water hose; there is a years-long wait list to receive one of the coveted plots. But I also take a sensual pleasure in a wander through the maze-like patches, filled with sprouting greens and ripening produce, bright flowers and buzzing bees, and the fragrance of lavender, basil and sage.

Sage in Glover Park Community Gardens

Photo: Lydia Polimeni

I enjoy seeing the dedication and pride with which local residents grow their own food.

In autumn, the browning gardens sadden me as the dying plants whisper of winter to come. This November morning there was still loveliness to be found in the oldest continuously used  District “victory garden.”

Photo: Lydia Polimeni

Photo: Lydia Polimeni

Photo: Lydia Polimeni

Leica is coming to DC!

Yes, in this era of smartphone photography, the legendary German camera brand Leica is actually opening a store in downtown Washington, D.C.

Pretty! The Leica M9-P, a "professionally targeted digital rangefinder"

I first learned about Leica as a freshman photography student; I idolized the photojournalism master Henri Cartier-Bresson, who shot only with his Leica Rangefinder.

Henri Cartier-Bresson with his Leica in 1957

I “settled” for Nikon (after a freshman year utilizing my old Honeywell Pentax 35mm to the max), as Leica gear is incredibly expensive. It has become a glamorous sort of brand, coveted by enthusiasts for it’s sleek, minimal design and superior engineering and optics (and connection to the greats, no doubt.) Robert Capa shot with Leica, as did Alfred Eisenstadt, Edward Steichen and Man Ray. If those names aren’t ringing a bell, these photos might:

Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Spanish Civil War, 1936, by Robert Capa


The Kiss, 1945, by Alfred Eisenstaedt

And look at this guy:

Stanley Kubrick with a Leica in 1949


Back to the store, which looks like it should be an interesting experience, with the entire range of Leica photography and sport optics products represented.  Even if you’re not ready to lay out some serious cash, there are other draws. Roland Wolff, Leica’s Director of Corporate Retail says the DC store will create a “completely immersive experience into the world of photography.”   There will be a photography gallery (images shot with Leica equipment), a demonstration studio and workshops will be offered. The Grand Opening is May 2 and 3 at 977 F St NW!

I imagine you can do that at the new store! (ad from 1938 catalog)


Gordon Park’s Vision of the Capital

Six years ago last week, Gordon Parks, photographer, film director, poet, musician and activist passed away (he would have been 100 this year!)  Seventy years ago he arrived in Washington D.C. on a photography fellowship from the Farm Security Administration. As Gordon Parks is one of my top five favorite photographers and this is a DC themed blog, I’d like to share a few of the photos he took in the city, beginning with the most famous, “American Gothic”.

American Gothic (Cleaning Woman Ella Watson, 1942)

Roy Stryker, Gordon Park’s boss at the FSA, said that the photo could “get them all fired” but encouraged Gordon to keep working with Ms. Watson.


Ella Watson's grandchildren, 1942, photographed by Gordon Parks

Parks had arrived in the nation’s capital with great enthusiasm, which was soon dampered by the racism he encountered. Even a photographer on assignment with a federal agency could not eat lunch or buy clothes where he wanted, due to the color of his skin.

A segregated area of SouthEast DC, photographed by Gordon Parks


Boys in Anacostia, DC, photographed by Gordon Parks


Young Dancers, Frederick Douglass Housing Project, Washington DC, photographed by Gordon Parks

Race did not stop Parks from becoming a great documentary photographer (also the first African American staffer at Life magazine).

“I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapon against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did… most of whom were murdered or put in prison… but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so.” – Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks, an extremely cool guy.


100 Years of Cherry Blossoms! Take a Picture!

Yep, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Washington D.C.’s cherry trees being planted around the Tidal Basin. These trees, a gorgeous gift from Japan, are celebrated every year during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which brings flocks of tourists (and photographers!) to Washington to marvel at the fleeting explosion of pink and white.  This year the D.C. Commission on Arts & Humanities has organized a public arts festival to coincide with the blossom madness and the folks at FotoDC are holding a photography contest with different categories and great prizes.  Peak bloom this year is expected early, between March 24 and March 31.

The blooms are crazy-photogenic, but can be challenging to shoot as you jostle with thousands of others determined to get that perfect shot (or just happily gawking). Local photographer Brandon Kopp recently wrote up a great and detailed blog entry full of tips on shooting the blossoms which I thought was worth a link!

So just for fun, here are a few shots from around the web that I found special:

Photo by Navin Sarma

That’s just plain beautiful.


Image: Gawker

Stormy blossoms win with me!


Photo by Kevin Ambrose

WOW! Really stormy blossoms…


Kevin Ambrose/Washington Post

Sunrise is an extremely popular time to photograph the cherry blossoms, but there will be plenty of competition. I think I might head down there at night; I love night photography and it should be quiet. Worked well in the image above.

Let me know if you’ve got any special blossom photos; I’d be happy to share.



Wander around Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and you’ll find plenty of beautiful photographs of DC, ready to buy and hang on your wall. Increasingly, you’ll also see breathtaking shots of the city in HDR: high dynamic range.

Notice the difference between this and the non-HDR photo in the blog heading. (Click for Source)

Through the use of post processing software, several photographs taken at varying shutter speeds are combined into one image. This composite image is supposed to more accurately represent what the human eye sees – with detail in both areas of shadow and light and rich color saturation. HDR isn’t very new as far as photography tech, but I’ve already admitted I’m slightly behind the curve/old fashioned (picking on Instagram, marveling at camera phones).

World War II Memorial in HDR (Click for Source)

I’m interested in how HDR photography is perceived in the photography community. The public seems to eat up these images, which are without doubt, striking and intriguing (and pinned like mad on Pinterest). But is it photography in the traditional sense or more of a hybrid art form? Photographers presenting their work online will often preface an image title with “HDR” and the Washington Post also clearly identified such photos in a recent publication (yet still stirred up debate.)

The controversial Washington Post photo, published January 2012

I’ve yet to see an HDR photograph show up in National Geographic, which has a strict policy of straight photography; image content cannot be altered. But if HDR photography really is closer to what the human eye sees, then should it even be a problem? Predictably, John Omvik, the VP of an HDR software company, says it’s totally appropriate. “If one really wants to split hairs about what is ‘real’and what isn’t, consider this: from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until the moment you close them at night, everything you see in the world around you is in HDR,” says Omnik. He goes on to argue that HDR is more true to reality than the black and white film traditionally used in photojournalism.

Even the Metro is pretty in HDR! (Click for Source)


Personally, I still feel HDR is more appropriate for fine art photography than photojournalism.  I may be a bit skeptical because  many HDR photographs I”ve seen don’t really look like anything I’ve seen in real life. Would love to hear your take…. in the meantime we’ll let an HDR Jefferson ponder upon it…

(click image for source)

Bits and Pieces of Frida

As someone who adored the colorful, poignant movie “Frida” (and Salma Hayek’s saucy portrayal of the famous Mexican painter) and who could just spend hours poring over vintage photographs, I’m interested in the exhibit which opened last night at Artisphere in Arlington. Called “Frida Kahlo: Her Photos,” it’s less a showing of artwork than a historical collection of photographs, curated by Mexican photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio.  He selected 240 images from Frida’s personal collection of over 6,500 (which had been sealed away for more than 50 years following her death in 1954.) This is the first showing in the United States; the permanent collection is at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico.

Frida in 1930

Frida is known for her tumultuous life as much as for her powerful self portraits. Her adulthood was  filled with physical and emotional pain, from accidents, surgeries, miscarriages and her chronically unfaithful husband (famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera).  She also had her own string of flings with other cultural icons of the era. It was a life fit for the movies. But a show like this offers us the unique gift of the camera: a personal, up close view into the every day reality of a luminescent person long gone.

A few more samples from the show:

Bedridden after an accident in her teens, Frida began doing art as a way to pass the time.


Diego Rivera in 1940. Frida's father referred to their union as that between an "elephant and a dove"

Frida paints her father, himself a successful photographer (who did a lot of self portraits.)


Love this 1938 photo for how much it resembles her self portraits (see below)


A New Kind of Camera Phone

It seems like only yesterday I was scoffing at getting a phone with a camera in it. What do I need that crappy thing for, I’d say, rolling my snooty photo-major eyes… I have a REAL camera. Of course, picture-taking capabilities in phones have much improved since then. But it appears that now we can buy a device that is a camera first, phone second.

Samsung, traditionally a leader in phone camera technology, recently filed a trademark for the “Samsung Galaxy Camera”, a digital point and shoot with Android technology built in. Polaroid already has one:

Not what normally springs to mind when I hear “Polaroid” but I think it’s admirable they’re attempting to stay in the mix!  And this trend appears to be a decent one to follow; a recent report by the Consumer Electronics Association found that the number of people using phones as their primary camera source has tripled over the past two years. (Still only 18%, but I’m sure it will continue to grow.) I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point, we have “smart” digital SLRs. Professional photographers, especially photojournalists in the field, benefit from being able to transmit and share their photos as quickly as possible.

I’m sure that isn’t stopping camera manufacturers from panicking, as the digital camera market shrinks. As with many industries, they’ll just have to adapt to this new media driven, integrated marketplace! (Too late for Kodak, but I never really considered buying a camera from Kodak…film YES, but that’s even more extinct).

At any rate, I suppose it’s time I stopped scoffing at camera phones.

Oh, but it will


Sleeping Soldiers

Last spring, British photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed at age 40 while covering the conflict in Libya.  A posthumous exhibit of his work in Afghanistan, “Sleeping Soldiers” is now up at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC.

I find Tim’s work very interesting for a couple of reasons. While he was no stranger to photographing in combat zones, he was also interested in showing us another side to the lives of the men. He stayed with a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan for months, gaining their trust to the point where he could make images of them as they slept, appearing quiet and vulnerable, (yet still a bit on edge).

There are also images from his 2010 book Infidel, showing the soldiers during leisure time.

Sterling Jones practices his golf swing in Kunar Province, Afghanistan

I also find Tim interesting and inspiring because of his embrace of modes of documenting beyond the camera. He directed and produced films (Restrepo was nominated for an Academy Award), did writing and reporting, and designed everything from multi-screen installations to portable device downloads. The “Sleeping Soldiers” portion of the exhibit up at the Corcoran is actually a video installation of the sleeping men layered with sounds and scenes of war, which add psychological components for the viewer to consider.

It’s easy for us to forget as we scan the the oft-daily scene of carnage on the front page of the paper, that someone was in the middle of the chaos with the dedication and presence of mind to frame and capture a photograph, allowing the rest of the world to see instantly what is happening.  A salute to Tim Hetherington and the other journalists who’ve lost their lives and to those still out there on the front lines.

World Press Photo of the Year 2007 by Tim Hetherington shows an exhausted soldier in Afghanistan.




DC Photo Opp: Library of Congress Reading Room!

This only happens twice a year, and one of those times is in a few days: the Library of Congress opens up it’s magnificent Reading Room and allows photography.  Normally this room isn’t open to the public (unless you go through the process of getting a Reader Identification Card). Massive marble columns, domed roof, multiple balconies, bronze statues, amid the soft light and hush of the library. If this sounds appealing, you can head over there on Monday, President’s Day, between 10 and 3.

Photo Source



So it IS ok to photograph Federal buildings!

It was just about one year ago that photography activist Jerome Vorus had his Flip camera taken from him and the footage deleted, after he was “caught” taking pictures of DC’s Superior Court. (He had begun to film the US Marshals that were questioning him.)

photo by Jerome Vorus

There was never a Federal law prohibiting photography from public spaces like sidewalks, but in light of a recent lawsuit settlement by a photographer who was arrested after filming New York’s federal courthouse, Homeland Security has sent out a bulletin to federal employees clarifying the need not to disrupt people taking these types of pictures. From the document, “This Information Bulletin is being released to raise awareness of the public’s right to photograph the exterior of federally owned and leased facilities.”

But I suspect this won’t be the end of it. Officials are still allowed to question photographers, although strictly prohibited from seizing their property without due cause. Definitely an improvement but a possibly slippery slope. Which just brings us to the ever-worrisome trend of freedoms being eroded in this era of heightened security. While I realize the need for sensitivity, I just hope and wish that more time will be spent addressing legitimate threats rather than harassing citizens. In my own family, my mother, an avid boat nerd, was tailed by  Border Patrol and confronted when she took photos of the famous Sault Ste. Marie Bridge.

The Sault Ste Marie Bridge between Michigan and Canada

My brother was driving around lost in downtown DC (sounds familiar) when he was stopped for driving a box truck (his converted-ambulance tow vehicle) too close to the White House and was menacingly told not to answer his cell phone as it rang. It just erodes one’s pride in being a citizen when being treated with suspicion and sometimes hostility while basically minding their own business.Some balance must be struck between security needs and respect for a country’s people. In the words of the photographer-activist Jerome Vorus, “I believe there is a good case to be made that having lots of cameras in the hands of citizens makes us more, rather than less, safe.”

What do you think? Have you ever been shoo’d away from photographing in a public space?