Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Appreciating art at The Alexander Hotel

I had the occasion recently to step inside The Alexander, a relatively new hotel in the CityWay development on the south fringe of downtown Indianapolis, specifically at Delaware and South streets.

I was there with a group to dine for brunch, but while there, one person in our party who had been there before directed us to the upper level -- actually the main floor, as it turns out -- where we enjoyed some of the artwork in the reception area lobby.

I had my iPhone with me and used it to snap these photos of what we saw. The lead photo is one of three closeups I offer here from a wall facing people as they exit elevators to the floor. It is a 2012 artwork by Mark Fox, and it has a lengthy title -- 39 point 76181 degrees North 86 point 154688 degrees West, which if you know your geography, are longitude and latitude grid points, and in this case, they happen to be the points for the hotel.

I took a photo of the story behind the artwork (it appears several photos below), so if you'd like to know more about it, take a look at it. Basically, Fox decided to use the text you see -- after laying out the grid coordinates -- to "delve into a more poetic, occasionally humorous presentation of historical and scientific information about the viewer's position in time and space ... " The "humorous" aspect would explain the wording I zeroed in on in the lead photo. If you look closely at the two closeups below, you can see my hands with the iPhone reflected in the work. A woman in our party is seen off to the left in one of those photos.

I couldn't get too close to it with the iPhone camera and maintain sharpness, so the photo of the description is a little blurry.

As always, click on any of the images to see larger, sharper versions of them.

Above and below: Two full perspectives of the Mark Fox artwork. The one above is without any reflections -- no people in the vicinity. But because of the mirrored elements, you'll often see reflections, such as the pointing woman in blue below, whose reflection is reflected onto the work by another mirror. 

Above: I wish I'd gotten a closeup of the large wall portrait of Madame C.J. Walker, an Indianapolis entrepreneur and philanthropist. The portrait was made from black pocket combs. 

Above and below: As the closeup below hopefully conveys, the bird shapes in this wall art was made from vinyl 33 rpm music discs. Hence, the record player/turntable and stacks of old 33 rpm album covers you see on the floor, where the birds seem to be rising from.  

Above: The stairs we climbed from the dining floor to reach the "main" lobby where we found the artwork. 

Above: The wall art behind the reception desk, which is just to the right of this frame.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The capitol's stately architecture ...
and more from the government complex

Today's post is another of those I've had quite a bit of the past year or so -- a "catch-up" shoot.

I recently had occasion to spend a lot of time at the downtown Indiana state government complex, which consists of the statehouse (capitol), two government centers (north and south) and an intricate tunnel system that connects them all -- and leads to the nearby Circle Centre mall.

During this period, I'd hoped to use an off day or extended down time to bring my main cameras to the statehouse -- which has some beautiful architecture and interior decor -- and grab some quality shots. It never happened. I did manage, however, to grab some photos with my iPhone. Probably my favorite is the one leading off the post, taken on the top floor of the capitol. I enjoyed the patterns and leading lines, and the cool atrium squares.

I also took shots of the downtown canal from the window of the Indiana Government-North cafeteria windows (which overlook the canal); of some of the exterior architecture from the few windows that appear in the tunnel system; and of an intriguing building -- relatively new -- erected at the convergence of Delaware and New York streets and Massachusetts Avenue.

Again, all of these were taken with the iPhone. In several cases, I felt the vistas were worth photographing in both horizontal and vertical orientations. For example, the vertical counterpart to the photo leading off the post is the first image you see below. I did that elsewhere in the pictures below. And in one case, the vista looking out onto the canal from the cafeteria window, I offer shots taken on different days -- but with different sky conditions (explained more in the caption). Hope you enjoy it.

Above: On the day I did the shoot in the statehouse, there were rallies outside the Senate chamber by people on both sides of the controversial HJR-3 legislation. 

Above and below: Taken through a rare window in the tunnel system that connects the state government building complex.

Above and below: Shots from the Indiana Government Center-North cafeteria window overlooking the Downtown Canal. These were taken on separate days ... and not too far apart, time-wise. The difference you see in lighting? The image above was taken on a day with heavy clouds; the one below, bright sunshine. The view looks west, and the very tall IGC-North building's shadow blocked sun from an expansive portion of the canal at that hour. Both of these images were taken before we turned our clocks ahead for Daylight Saving Time. And yes, the ducks gather in the same place like this like clockwork every day. 

Above and below: Traffic bottled up often along New York Street on my rush-hour trips home. While stopped there on separate nights, and with separate weather, I photographed these views through the front windshield. There is the backed up traffic on a sunny day (above), when road construction crews two blocks down was responsible for the backup, and (below) vehicles slowed by one of the several snowfalls we've experienced this winter. The building that dominates both frames, a relatively new addition to the skyline at New York's juncture with Delaware Street and Mass Ave, is what one acquaintance refers to as "the cruise ship."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Farewell, Duncan ... and thanks!

One of the nice experiences I had photographing when I was out and about was accidental. While attending the Wicket World of Croquet competition on the lawn of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site on the Old Northside of Indianapolis on June 11, 2011, I got on the porch behind a jazz ensemble that was providing entertainment.

I was closest to the ensemble's drummer, and during a short break between songs, the drummer turned and spoke to me in a whisper, pointing to the keyboards player a short distance away.

"Do you know who that is?" the drummer asked. I told him I did not.

"Duncan Schiedt," he said. "Famous jazz photographer. He's 90 years old!"

That got my attention. A career photographer -- one who made his niche taking pictures of jazz performers and personalities. Sitting in my midst.

I made a point to zero in on Schiedt for several of my photographs, including the one leading off the post, which I included in a post here back then, and which I include again today, just eight days after Schiedt died, at the age of 92, at his home in Hendricks County, which is just west of Indianapolis.

In the days that followed, I encouraged one of the photography clubs I belonged to to see if Schiedt would visit the club and do a presentation of his images. They told me to see if I could set something up, which I did. And on Aug. 17, just more than two months after I first saw him at the Harrison Home, Schiedt talked to our club and gave a slide show of his favorite and most memorable images.

Schiedt is also an author; he brought along some copies of his history of jazz music in Indiana, The Jazz State of Indiana, and his most recent work, Jazz in Black and White, which consists mostly of the photos we would see during the presentation. I bought one of each, and had him sign them for me.

So when I learned of the news last week, I went back to that summer when I became aware of this man ... and decided to toast Duncan with this post.

Time to fade to pictures ... of his performance at the croquet competition, and of his visit to the photo club.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

3 show dates left for GSC's Antigone

Rather than present this post simply as the coda installment of my recent work photographing the Garfield Shakespeare Company's current production of "Antigone," which it is, I thought I'd use it to share a bit about "the good" and "the bad" that went into photographing it. And because "the bad" forced my hand, and thereby directly led to "the good," I'll start chronologically. For those of you more interested in the non-photography stuff about the play, there is a bit of that near the bottom!

Ordinarily, my preference in taking official archival photos for the troupe is to shoot a dress rehearsal. That way, my movements and the constant shutter tripping of the camera aren't a distraction to people in the audience during a live performance.

Most theater troupes have only one dress rehearsal, so it's crucial that the troupe's schedule and mine coincide if I'm to do it the way I really want (and, I think, the way the troupe would enjoy, once it sees the results). If we are not in sync, which happened with "Antigone" -- I had to work late into the night on the evening of the dress rehearsal -- one of three things happens: 1) I end up shooting a live performance; 2) the troupe finds someone else to do it; or 3) nobody gets the shots. For "Antigone," it was option No. 1.

"The bad" about shooting a live performance goes beyond just possibly annoying audience members, which I rank a very high No. 1 "bad" factor. To minimize audience distraction at a live performance, I minimize my movement, or at least limit it, by standing behind the back row as much as possible. Back row people still hear the shutter clicking, true, but at least they don't see me moving about to the degree I would at a rehearsal.

However, in addition to the distance from the subject, standing behind the audience challenges me to work around seats, audience members' heads and line of sight challenges, most of which I deal with via more work in post-processing -- strategic crops, mostly. I end up with more feet chopped off because they're behind a seat or a spectator's head, but ... a photographer tries to crop as judiciously as possible. Having limited perspectives also forces a photographer to work harder to avoid background nuisances -- bright lights and linear patterns, mostly. Again, strategic cropping and, on occasion, cloning-and-removal in post-processing is the best remedy for that.

On the plus side, GSC's spring productions are indoors, and the seating doesn't go too far back from the stage, so standing behind the back row doesn't put me so far away that I can't still get decent shots.

For "Antigone," I decided to do something I've never done before -- use my 1.4 lens extender indoors. I wanted more reach on the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens because I'd be so far back. Given that the Canon 6D I was going to use had such an improved light-sensitivity sensor over my previous body (the Canon 7D), I was going to gamble that losing the largest f/stop (2.8) -- losing large f/stop(s) is the trade-off of using extenders, and the longer the extender, the more large f/stops you lose -- was not going to have as great of an impact on image quality if I had to push my ISO as high as 6400. If I'd been using the 7D, I would not have wanted to do that ... or, I'm sure I'd have had to process all images through a noise-reduction filter afterward.

I'm tickled to say the 6D delivered for me. The images you see here were taken with the 6D and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens and 1.4 extender, and I didn't process any of them through noise-reduction software.

And now, about the play ... 

"Antigone," the Jean Anouilh version, starts a 2014 program that features two "firsts" for Garfield Shakespeare Company. It's the first time in GSC's modest history that both shows on the troupe's annual schedule will feature modern classics (i.e., no Shakespeare). The show for late summer is Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot," which will be GSC's first-ever musical.

"Antigone" goes back to ancient Greece; it was penned by Sophocles, hence the characters' Greek names. In Sophocles' version, the focus of the play falls on Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, and the loss of so much family in the tragedy. French dramatist Anouilh advanced the story to 1940s Nazi-occupied France, and the plot's emphasis turned to Antigone, Creon's niece, and her moral and political resolve. Anouilh enhanced a second-half scene involving niece and uncle and turned it into a powerful exchange, one that left both Nazis and the French resistance debating whether Anouilh meant to favor one side or the other, something Anouilh would never set straight entirely.

Director Chris Burton (right) added a visual twist to GSC's production of Anouilh's "Antigone." In consultation with key crew members, he decided to use costuming and makeup to cast performers in the roles of statues coming to life to tell the story. Creon ascends the Theben throne after co-rulers Polynices and Eteocles, Antigone's brothers, die on opposite sides of a civil war, Creon's first loss of family in the story. For political reasons explained in the play, Creon must allow only one of the brothers to be buried in honor, while the other's remains are to be left untouched on the battlefield. Anyone who attempts to move Polynice's body or give him a proper burial, Creon orders, will be arrested and put to death. Creon chooses to honor Eteocles, and Antigone fervently, and at first, furtively, strives to see that Polynices gets a proper burial.

Even though Antigone's relationship with both brothers was marginal, and even though Creon, in the course of the play, divulges to Antigone the despicable character of both brothers, she insists on defying Creon's order. Creon pleads mightily to get Antigone to come to reason. He tells her he does not want to order her execution, but Antigone -- perhaps for reasons she doesn't know herself, even after learning from Creon that both brothers sought to assassinate their father, Oedipus -- won't back down.

I saw both performances last weekend -- I did the photography on opening night, then returned on Saturday to enjoy the show as a spectator. The roles of Antigone, Creon, the narrator (also called the Greek chorus) and Jonas, one of three guards, are key ones, and I want to mention here that each of those performers did great jobs in their roles.

Caleb "Kabs" Slocum as Creon, who you see with Kerry Lane Stauffer (as Antigone) in the photo leading off the post, makes the aforementioned one-on-one scene with Antigone a riveting one. Creon tries furiously to bring Antigone to realize the futility of -- and recognize the thin substance to -- her cause in the face of paying a much larger, permanent price (death) for standing firm. Slocum does well to convey that frustration in every deliberative move, and every deliberative utterance, he makes.

John Garlick's spin as the socially clumsy guard, who is the last person to see Antigone alive, provides comic element in the otherwise serious story, making it difficult to believe that this is his stage debut.

For most of the play, it's cast member Robert Routier's job, as narrator/Greek chorus, to give spectators the back story. Indeed, Routier opens the performance by introducing all of the characters, which sets up the audience nicely for the drama that unfolds. And Stauffer, in the title role, makes for a model Antigone, nicely depicting the sometimes naive defender of moral and political ground, one who ignores the petitions of her sister Ismene (played by Ashley Chase Elliott) and fiance, Haemon, played by Spencer Elliott, in addition to those of Creon. And on two occasions at the end of the play, Routier briefly steps out of his narrator's role and interacts directly with Creon, questioning the ruler's monolithic approach and even offering a final argument on Antigone's behalf.

"Antigone" has three more show dates -- 7 p.m. March 21 and 22 and 3 p.m. March 23. Performances are at the Garfield Park Arts Center, 2432 Conservatory Drive, Indianapolis, in Garfield Park. Admission is free, but you are asked to call the arts center in advance, during normal business hours, to ensure and reserve seating, which is limited. The center's number is (317) 327-7135; its normal hours of operation are 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays except for special events, such as the GSC plays.

For a full gallery of shots from the production, visit my site at SmugMug.com.

Above: Antigone (Kerry Layne Stauffer) in an early scene with her nurse, played by Megan Dale Slocum.

Above and below: Creon's son Haemon (Spencer Elliott) is introduced as a man who enjoys sports (such as sparring with the cast's messenger, Andy Sturm, below) ... and women. Above, he dances with Ismene (Ashley Chase Elliott), the sister of his fiancee, Antigone. The Elliotts are married in real life.

Above: Creon's wife Eurydice (Monica Verdouw) passes the play's narrator/Greek chorus, Robert Routier, during introductory remarks. 

Above and next two below: Antigone confides in sister Ismene and fiance Haemon that she must see that brother Polynice gets a proper burial.

Above and below: Creon (Caleb "Kabs" Slocum, right above) first learns, from Jonas (John Garlick), one of his guards, of attempts to cover the remains of Polynice, which violated his order to not touch the body. 

Above and next two below: The palace guards (above, from left: Guy Grubbs, John Garlick and Jay Brubaker), with Antigone present (below), as they answer to Creon's inquiries about who tampered with the body of Polynice.

Above and below: Two more frames from the dramatic exchange between Creon and Antigone.

Above: Routier updates the audience on the play's latest developments.

Above: Creon's page, played by Elizabeth Fasbinder, watches the back-and-forth between Creon (not pictured) and Antigone, flanked in the foreground by one of the guards. 

Above and below: Antigone in the final moments of her exchange with Creon in the second half of the play. 

Above and below: Antigone's sister, Ismene (Ashley Chase Elliott) tells Antigone she'll support her in the effort to bury Polynice, but Antigone tells her it's too late. 

Above: When Antigone is led away after her dramatic exchange with Creon, the narrator/Greek chorus (Routier) pays him the first of two visits near the end of the play. Standing at the back of the audience, he says, "You're mad, Creon. What have you done?"

Above and below: Creon confirms Antigone's fate in an exchange with his son Haemon, Antigone's fiance. 

Above and below: Antigone engages guard Jonas in conversation, as he is the last person who'll see her alive. She coaxes Jonas to write what turns out to be a very brief note to give to Haemon: "I'm sorry, my darling," the note reads. "It would have been nice and peaceful for you all without me. I love you."

Above below: Andy Sturm, as the messenger, announces not only Antigone's death, but that of Haemon, who dies alongside his finacee.

Above: The narrator, in one last visit with Creon, informs the ruler that Creon's wife, Eurydice, took her life after learning of the death of her son, Haemon. "Her, too," Creon mutters. "They are all asleep." 

Above: In the end, only the guards remain, and they care nothing about what has just transpired ... just the game of cards before them.