Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Refurbished shelter holds a special place in local transportation history

Five years ago, while making a winter swing through Garfield Park in Indianapolis to explore the nuts and bolts of taking high-dynamic range (HDR) photos, I took a few pictures of a rotting structure I came across at the end of my shoot.

I had no idea what the structure was at the time, and my photo caption in the blog post I put together at the time offers no detail about it. It turns out it had been infested by termites, its arch supports were decaying (or in some cases, missing), the concrete foundation was cracked or broken off, the roof was missing some roof shingles and decking, and the whole structure was leaning off-center.

I have since learned that the structure, located at the southwest corner of the park not far from Southern Avenue and the railroad tracks, is believed to be one of the last wooden-splayed arched trolley shelters in the state and, indeed, of its kind in all of the Midwest. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the Indianapolis Park & Boulevard Historic System District (Kessler Plan).

The trolley system of transportation -- also known as streetcars and, especially in Indianapolis, the interurban -- had its halycon era in the United States between the two world wars. They fell into disfavor and eventually disappeared as individual automobile ownership became increasingly prevalent. The shelter in Garfield Park was near one stop on an old interurban route along Southern Avenue.

Within the last few months, efforts to restore the shelter, which began two years ago, came to fruition. The shelter has been restored, complete with new roofing, new support beams and a new concrete foundation. I happened to notice it today when driving past it on a route I don't often take anymore, which is why I hadn't noticed the finished work previously.

The restoration effort was supported by the National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund administered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation. Also participating in the project were the City of Indianapolis Parks Department, the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, Friends of Garfield Park Inc., Indiana Landmarks, Efroymson Family Fun and Indianapolis Trails Fund Inc. Project coordinator was city/county parks department's Tina Jones, a park planner for historic landscapes and greenways.

Pictures in the top potion of this post are of the newly restored shelter, taken today (June 15). Below those, to use for comparison, are some of the shots I took in February 2011. In the 2011 photos, my HDR skills as well as the technology in the HDR processing software were still works in progress. (I guess when it comes right down to it, photographers' skills are always in a place called "a work in progress.")

The last two shots of the new ones are photos of recently planted trees in this area of the park, including a dogwood very near the shelter. The other is one in a series of pignut hickorys a bit away from the shelter.

Photo geek stuff: I shot all of these photos with a Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens. The lens was equipped with a polarizing filter. For each frame, I bracketed my shots in three exposures, each 0.75 of a stop apart. My shutter was the primary variable; the f/stop was static at 9.0 throughout. I adjusted my ISO depending on my light (which was reduced for each shot because of the polarizing filter). ISOs ranged from 100 to 800.









FROM 2011





Wednesday, June 1, 2016

An individual look at the "Hamlet" cast

When I arrived to shoot First Folio Productions' dress rehearsal of its spring show, "Hamlet," director Glenn Dobbs told me that in addition to the actual performance, he wanted me to shoot individual photos of cast members from which he could pick an appropriate "album cover." (For a post devoted to my play pictures, see previous post or click on the link in this sentence.)

I didn't ask him about what kind of album he was talking about. Even if I were going to ask him, before I could do that, Dobbs told me he wanted to use the electric bulbs wired into his false brick posts stage props for lighting.

Anyone who knows lighting for photographs knows what kind of pictures will result in the dramatic lighting he was proposing -- modest to wide shadows in and/or under the eyes, or when one side of the face would be illuminated while the other was in dark shadows or turned away from the camera, depending on how you position the subject(s). Portrait photographers know that dramatic lighting can be effective when you seek to present a subject in a certain mood, and that it can work on occasion for male subjects. They also know that such lighting is generally considered unflattering and unappealing for female subjects.

Dramatic lighting is what Dobbs was after, so we went through the full cast trying to position them as best as we could. Dobbs was so excited about the bulb lighting, that when he stood in for a test shot (right), I decided to compose it with one of the bulbs in it. I made both color and monochrome versions of each formal shot. I also made a few informal (candid) color images for Dobbs -- shots from moments during the very short lulls when one individual departed and Dobbs rounded up the next one. And we had to do it fast, because Dobbs needed to get the play rehearsal started on time so we wouldn't be at the theater very late into the evening.

It occurred to me as I processed the images yesterday that it might be of interest to readers here to see what kind of quality can come out of a situation like that. In most cases, I was able to keep the ISO setting on the camera at a reasonable level for my Canon 6D, which can process photos without revealing too much "noise" (or grain) up to about ISO 6400, and sometimes even a bit more. In a few cases, however, I had to push the ISO higher, so while processing the photos, I made decisions to toss a couple shots that would have been usable under better lighting conditions.

From the number of poses we did of everyone, it was clear afterward that Dobbs was looking for one of Hamlet or Hamlet with Ophelia to be on the cover of whatever album he was putting together. We did a lot of different poses with Carey Shea (Hamlet) and of Shea with Devan Mathias (Ophelia). While Dobbs might have his own ideas about what he will want and use, this post is more about how I regarded the results of the shots.

My favorite solo shot of Shea is the one presented in the dual-photo presentation I have leading off the post -- and this dual photo presentation for a lead graphic, incidentally, is a first for Photo Portpourri. Notice the bit of shadow on the right side of Shea's face -- not nearly as dramatic as I would see while exploring and using other poses. In fact, in general, his face in this photo has favorable lighting, and the pensive pose comes off as powerful, I think.

In the spirit of giving credit where it's due, I'll mention here that Dobbs had ideas for poses throughout this quick shoot, and we tried everything he mentioned. He also yielded to me every time I expressed concerns about unacceptable lighting or distracting backgrounds. Indeed, we used his ideas more than half the time, and this one was one of his. To show you examples of what else we came up with, I include a shot of Shea looking directly at the camera (left) and a monochrome conversion of him looking over his shoulder (right).

My favorite of Hamlet and Ophelia (Devan Mathias) together is the one sharing the lead-off spot at the top. Dobbs and I shared the idea for this pose; Dobbs had sought some separation between the two, and when I told him there wasn't ample lighting for both individuals in any separated position without creating a significant depth of field issue (one individual would have to be out of focus), we put Devan in a position facing the camera and gazing at Hamlet. Her face caught a good share of light, so we put her in focus. In the foreground, Shea is prominent ... but thrown out of focus because of the separation.

We took shots of Mathias solo in two poses, one serious, one with her smiling. I think because of what I mentioned above about women come off in an unflattering nature when cast in dramatic lighting, I favor the shot of her smiling (right). For one, it's a genuine, pretty smile, and also I think it goes a long way toward conquering the women-in-dramatic-lighting issue.

Outside of the lead characters, my favorite individual shots -- female and male -- are of Anne Gross and John Mortell (below). Anne has a couple roles in the play, but her main one is as a performer in "The Murder of Gonzago," a play within the play. Even though the right side of her face is cast in shadow (it was virtually unavoidable), I like her shot because of the costuming and how she holds herself in the pose. The latter is also one reason I like Mortell's shot. He exudes confidence, and both individuals have a good sense about how to present themselves. Because I'm familiar with Mortell from previous First Folio shows, I know this is a very accurate representation of his command of the characters he portrays. In "Hamlet," Mortell plays Laertes, brother of Ophelia and son of Polonius.


Here are some more examples of the individual shots:

 Ericka Barker, as Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother

Matthew Anderson portrays Claudius, Hamlet's uncle ... and stepfather ... and is the person responsible for the death of Hamlet's father. There were three poses of Anderson, and this one -- which in a way reminds me of his character's critical prayerful scene before intermission in the play -- seems appropriate.


We also did two poses of the "Hamlet" newlyweds, Claudius and Gertrude. In my opinion, this was the better, although I don't like the shadows on Ericka Becker's face.

 Benjamin Mathis as Horatio, Hamlet's friend and confidante.


We did two poses for Tom Weingartner, who plays Polonius, father of Laertes, one with and without a hat. I liked both, so ... here you have them. 

Scott Stockton as Marcellus and an extra. 


Andy Barnett as the ghost of Hamlet's father, King Hamlet. It seemed appropriate to use the monochrome version for the ghost.

Missy Rump as Bernardo and as a performer in the play within the play. Rump and Gross had similar costumes, and the color version of Rump's photo was just fine. I just like how the monochrome conversion came out.  

Chris Burton has several roles, actually. Here he's dressed for a scene early in the play as an extra for the reception of Gertrude and Claudius' wedding. He also performs as the lead player in the play within a play ... and as the gravedigger.  

 Fred Margison plays Osric and an extra.

Kevin Caraher has dual roles as a priest and an extra.

As always, click any individual images to view a larger and sharper version, which is particularly beneficial if viewing this post in a mobile device.

"Hamlet" has its final shows at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis this weekend -- 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (June 3-4) and 3:30 p.m . Sunday, June 5.  Follow the link in this sentence to learn more about how to get tickets, which cost $12 (seniors get a $2 discount, students a $4 discount).

Photo geek stuff: I used a Canon 6D equipped with a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens for all of the individual shots. I shot using ISO 1600, with the aperture varying from f/1.4 (wide open) to 1.8 and the shutter at around 1/125.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

First Folio brings "Hamlet" to the stage

I've shot full-show Shakespeare productions by First Folio Productions of Indianapolis since its 2014 spring presentation, "Romeo and Juliet." And while First Folio always has done a remarkable job, this spring's "Hamlet" might just be its best yet.

"Hamlet," which is playing at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, opened last weekend and has one more weekend of shows -- 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 3-4, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday June 5. Check the link in this sentence for ticket information.

I first saw "Hamlet" male lead Carey Shea as the cynical philospher Apemantus in the rarely performed "Timon of Athens," Casey Ross Productions' contribution to last fall's inaugural Indy Bard Fest at Studio 15 in Carmel, Ind. I was struck then by his ability to convey a non-lead but nevertheless important character. When I photographed the "Hamlet" dress rehearsal on May 24, I saw it even more so when he brought Hamlet to life and, alas, to death on the stage.

Devan Mathias was cast in the play's female role lead, Ophelia, and her dramatic meltdown scene gives photographers the thrill we seek in trying to best capture the moment. Kudos go out, as well, to Matthew Anderson, whose portrayal of Claudius, the evil, conniving stepfather of Hamlet, is strong and convincing, reaching its apex in the dramatic soliloquy just before intermission.

Director Glenn Dobbs devoted attention to intensifying the climactic swordfight scene depicted in the photo leading off the post. The scene pits Hamlet (Shea, left) against John Mortell's Laertes. Mortell is a veteran of First Folio swordfight scenes in shows that I've photographed ("Macbeth" 2015 and "Romeo and Juliet" 2014), and directors of Shakespearean dramas no doubt find those skills a welcome complement to his character portrayal acumen.

First Folio's "Hamlet" has had favorable reviews by at least three theater bloggers -- Melissa Hall ("Stage Write"), Ken Klingenmeier ("A Seat on the Aisle") and "Jay Harvey Upstage."

Ah, but this blog is about pictures, not about words (although I'm sure you can find many posts to present as evidence otherwise). Here are a few of the shots from the show, which is likely to be one of my last to photograph, to whet your appetite for the real thing. A full gallery of my shots from the play is available to view at my SmugMug.com site.

Photo geek stuff: I shot the entire production with a Canon 6D equipped with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I used a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens to shoot individual shots of the cast members, which the director, Glenn Dobbs, asked me to take in addition to the play photos. Those photos are not included in this post but might be represented in a separate post down the road. My settings for the play shots varied according to light conditions and when action on stage was normal or intense. I did shoot using shutter-priority mode for the entire play. For non-action scenes, I was able to shoot at shutter speeds ranging from 1/160 to 1/200; for the climactic sword-fight scene, I raised the shutter speed to 1/640 and set the ISO to 8000 (there was good lighting). My ISO setting was my major variable, as stage lighting varied frequently throughout the show. For lighting at its most optimum point, my ISO was usually from 1600 to 2000; at lighting's lowest point, I used ISOs ranging from 4000 to 16,000 or more (the ghost scene).

Above and below: Throughout Shakespeare's classic drama, Hamlet's relationships with key characters run friendly and violent, the most notable of which is that with Ophelia. Carey Shea and Devan Mathias portray those characters.


Above: A confrontation between Hamlet and Laertes, played by John Mortell. With the help and encouragement of Claudius, Laertes will seek revenge for the death of his father, Polonius, at Hamlet's hand in his mother's bed chamber.

Above: Hamlet with Polonius, portrayed by Tom Weingartner. 

Above: Hamlet has anger issues even with his own mother, Gertrude, played by Ericka Barker.

Hamlet above with trusted friend Horatio (Benjamin Mathis), who later in the story (below) comforts Hamlet in his last moments. First Folio's production takes the unusual step of opening with the denouement ... before presenting the whole story as a flashback. 


Above and below: Ophelia begins her run off the rails in this scene ...


... then completes it shortly afterward in the scene captured in the photos above and next three below.




Above and next three below: Claudius in his soliloquy of anguish and remorse just before intermission, climaxing with the emergence of Hamlet with drawn dagger. Hamlet refrains from using it this time, but Claudius isn't as fortunate in the final scene when the prince follows through. 





Above: In the final scene, Hamlet, moments after his mother had fallen fatally to a swallow of poison that was intended for Hamlet, finally follows through with the slaying of Claudius.

Ericka Barker as Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, in a moment of conversation (above), and in the violent bed chamber scene with her son (next two below).  



Above: Hamlet confronts the ghost of Hamlet's father, played by Andy Burnett. 

Chris Burton (above) and Anne Gross (with Burton, next two below) are the lead player and player queen in the performance of "The Murder of Gonzago," a play within the play that Hamlet devises to replicate the slaying of Hamlet's father. Hamlet hopes the play can help him determine if Claudius was responsible for his father's demise.  



Burton has the dual role of gravedigger (above), who presents Hamlet with a skull, supposedly of Yorick, jester in the court of King Hamlet, prompting a monologue on mortality (below) by the play's lead character.