Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Art of Flamboyance (Icons Behind the Lens Series)

Noel Coward behind the Ansco Super Memar 

Sir Noel Coward is arguably the epitome of flamboyance.  English playwright, composer, singer, director and actor.  That is why I decided to use his photo as a background for the exemplar Ansco Super Memar.  Both are products of the 1950s.  Loomis Dean captured Sir Coward in 1955 at the desert near Las Vegas to depict his song "Mad Dogs and Englishmen".  The camera was made in 1954 by Agfa, the same company that manufactured the film.

I made a few decent shots with this camera.  The viewfinder is bright and uses a neat rangefinder, which focuses with relative ease.  I love this camera for its functionality and for its classic look.

As for Dean's shot of Sir Coward, the urbane artist complained that he doesn't wake up until 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  But with limo and a tub of ice and liquor, Coward was persuaded.  He goes on to say, "Splendid, splendid ... now if only we have a piano."

This is my latest installment to paying tribute to vintage cameras and icons behind them.  For techies, you would be please to note that I've been using the Carl Zeiss 100mm Makro mounted on the Canon 5d Mark ii set at f/22 and at a very long exposure.  I'm also using LEDs to light up the subject.  The killer shot is actually a composite of images shot from different lighting direction and later on layered so I can paint out desirable shadows and highlights.

#Flickr #horizontal #portrait #tripod #LongExposure #PhotoAsBackground #tribute #StillLife #Monochrome #AnscoSuperMemar #IAMGenerationImage #vintage #analogue #camera #IconsBehindTheLensSeries #VintageCamera #film #LoomisDean #NoelCoward #LifeMagazine #rangefinder

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Harbor Ventura in the Sunset

Boats along Ventura Harbor

I'm sorry to write that this post is tired and boring so I'm hoping that the majestic sunset photo above will make up for it.

There is a popular 70s song called Ventura Highway.  I wish somebody would have written a song about Ventura Harbor.  I think the harbor has far more romantic appeal than the crowded highway.

We did something different this Christmas.  We went up to Ventura to spend Christmas there.  The drive was not bad since everybody was going on the opposite direction: towards Las Vegas.  I read somewhere that casino try to out do one another this time of the year.  Also, everything is open.

We stayed at the same hotel that Mimi loved.  She has become familiar with the place that she would mark every turf we passed by.

One thing that I learned about going out of town during Christmas was that almost all the restaurants were closed.  Las Vegas is an exception.  The only ones we found out that were opened were Asian restaurants and ones in hotels.  I suppose both of them don't celebrate Christmas.  I bet that these restaurants make the most profit during this day.

#vacation #VenturaHarbor #travel #boat #sunset #CaliforniaSunset #IAMGenerationImage 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Brownie Girl (Icons Behind the Lens Series)

Partial photo of Alfred Eisenstaedt's Children and the Puppet Theater Behind the Kodak Bbrownie Target Six-16

The Brownie Target Six-16 was introduced in 1946 and was discontinued fifteen years later.  It was originally priced at $4.  Nowadays, one could get an acceptably functional one between $30 to $80.  I say "acceptably functional" because one could never really get a shot that would be comparable even to today's cheapest camera available.  I'm not sure where I got mine.  I'm sure somebody must have given it to me.  I have a few more Brownies, which kind people gave to me and which I also plan to pay tribute to later on.  I have not much use for them.  The camera uses a film size 616, which is almost impossible to get hold of as Kodak discontinued its manufacture in 1984.  Maybe Kodak thought that 1984 would turn the States into the dystopian era similar to George Orwell's 1984 novel.

Although the Brownie is in a different era as Alfred Eisenstaedt's photo of Children at the Puppet Theater (shot in 1963), the nostalgic feel of the photo and of that of the camera go well together in my opinion.  I must be post-modern.  Because I don't have much regard to historical accuracy when it suits me.   Eisenstaedt's photo captures the children's excitement as they watched a puppet show.  The Brownie captures the same excitement for amateur photographers who could take pictures without pawning the family heirloom.

I love it that the little girl is leaning towards the camera and looking at Eisenstaedt.  Everyone else is engrossed at the puppet show.  Come to think of it, the image reminds me of Orwell's 1984 for some reason.

#Flickr #horizontal #portrait #tripod #LongExposure #PhotoAsBackground #tribute #StillLife #Monochrome #KodakBrownieTargetSix #IAMGenerationImage #vintage #analogue #camera  #IconsBehindTheLenaSeries #VintageCamera #film #AlfredEisenstaedt #ChildrenandthePuppetTheater

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mama miya My Mamiya - an afterthought (Icons Behind the Lens Series)

Nina Leen's Whippet behind Mamiya-6

If you are a person who likes to be the center of attention, I have two suggestions when getting photographed: (1) do not pose with a young child, and (2) do not pose with a cute dog.  I guarantee that either of these two will blow you off and steal your show.  Hence I may be making a big mistake in composing the picture above.

Nina Leen shot this fawn-and-white whippet in 1964.  The dog became a superstar in Great Britain.  To my eyes, the photo has that classic portrait feel that I thought would be a cool background for my classic Mamiya-6.  Initially the vertical photo above was going to be my tribute to the Mamiya-6 but I ended using Bill Beall's Busted as a background photo just because it looked better on screen.  In doing Icons behind the Lens series, I realized that the horizontal or landscape format worked better when displayed on the screen of a computer.  My dilemma is that horizontal formats do not work well in books as opposed to vertical or portrait format.  I'm still trying to figure out a way for the audience to appreciate looking at photos in both a book form and the web.  Sometimes, the square format is the compromising solution.  But this would mean cropping the picture  since I'm using an SLR with a 2x3 format.  I think that would be a waste of pixels.

#Whippet #NinaLeen #portrait #VintageCamera #IconsBedhindTheLensSeries #IAMGenerationImage #Mamiya6 #StillLife #LifeMagazine #FoldingCamera #MediumFormat #6x6 #tripod #LongExposure #PhotoAsBackground #tribute  #vintage #analogue #camera  #film 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Sunny Side of Life (Icons Behind The Lens Series)

One cannot have too many cameras.

The iconic photo behind the two cameras was shot by Bill Beall as he chanced upon Officer Maurice Cullinane gently coaxing two-year old Allen Weaver back to the Curb.  The photo won a Pulitzer award.  And how could it not?  Entitled Busted, the photo is a classic street shot.  Unsuspecting protagonists caught at the decisive moment by the photographer.

I decided to use Beall's photo as a background for my Mamiya-6 as the camera came out about the same time as when Beall took his photo.  Around late 1950s.  The Mamiya-6 (note the hyphen) is different from the more famous plastic-bodied Mamiya Six, which came out in the 1990s.  The former is a classic folding camera, which has long been forgotten.  The latter is still used around.  Actually the Mamiya-6 series debuted in the 1940s.  My Mamiya-6 is the last version.

It is curious why Mamiya decided to resurrect the model name fifty years later.  Perhaps, a period of fifty years is too long for one to remember the classic folding camera.  I'm glad I have one.  In my fantasy, I dream of having two.  Thanks to the magic of Photoshop.  Besides, one cannot have too many cameras, right?

#LifeMagazine #BillBeall #Pulitzer #AllenWeaver #Mamiya6 #IconsBehindTheLensSeries #FoldingCamera #MediumFormat #6x6 #StillLife #VintageCamera #tripod #LongExposure #PhotoAsBackground #tribute  #IAMGenerationImage #vintage #analogue #camera  #film 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Kodak 35 and King Louis (Icons Behind the Lens Series)

My Kodak 35 and Louis Armstrong
The Kodak 35 is arguably the ugliest camera ever made.  I own one.  It is not only ugly physically but functionally the beast is cursed.  It ate two rolls of my 35mm films.  No it just didn't eat them.  It devoured them and spit them out or whatever were left of them like fishbones.  I never made any single decent shot out of this camera.  That is why I think it is only appropriate to have this camera proped in front of the most beautiful voice ever around: Louis Armstrong.  He not only played beautifully but he sang like he played.  It was dearly.  Hail to the king.  Satchmo's outstanding photo was taken by Philippe Halsman, who shot this for Life magazine.  The Kodak 35's paltry photo was taken by Juzno, who shot this for himself for lack of anything better to do with his time.

#vertical #portrait #tripod #LongExposure #PhotoAsBackground #tribute  #flickr #StillLife #Monochrome #Kodak35 #IAMGenerationImage #vintage #analogue #camera  #IconsBehindTheLensSeries #VintageCamera #film #LouisArmstrong  #PhilippeHalsman

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Al, Arnie, George, John, and the Graying of America

I love grayscale.  Sometimes it works well.  Other times, well ehh.  But this one really works for me.  I met these fine gents at Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles.  Initially, I noticed the guy on the left as he was calling his friends.  I made small talk.  One of them noticed my camera.  The Fujifilm xpro-1.  I love it when people notice it.  It looks retro that most people mistake it for a film camera, which I think got its attention.

They tell me that they go to lunch once a week at different places.  Thus far, they have gone to more than 200 restaurants.  If my calculation is correct, they have been doing this gig for the last four or five years.

I asked how they met.  I think it was Al (the guy with the baseball hat) who told me that they all go to this Lutheran Church out in Santa Monica, and they all hate the people at their church - a commonality that binds them together.

One of them commented on my shoes.  Interestingly, I had the same size shoes as them. They love my shoes because they were designed for old men with orthopedic issues.  It's nice to empathize with one's age.

I just love these folks.

Last night, I got an email from one of them - inquiring if I still have their photo.  I sent him this one.  I hope they enjoy it.

#GroupPicture #BlackAndWhite #BW #OldMen #Fujifilm #Xpro1 #35mm #XmountLens #DowntownLA #LosAngeles #GrandCentralMarket #GrayScale #Downtown #urban  #IAMGenerationImage #SeniorCitizens #street

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ikonta and the Migrant Mother (Icons Behind the Lens Series)

Ikonta in front of Dorothea Lange photo
I have always suffered from anxiety.  Even as a young boy, I have tried every imaginable solution.  Think good thoughts.  Try not to think of going to the bathroom. Don’t listen to what the priest tells you.  Etc.  Etc.  Sad to say, I have not really overcome it.  I have merely placed rescue flags along the way – so when anxiety strikes I have those flags I could reach for to wave for rescue.  The flags were not always within reach.  And that would mean mental breakdown in my part.  It does not happen often.  But when it does, I’m pretty much useless.  

One thing I have learned about being anxious is I could spot one who is experiencing the same thing. Such is the Migrant Mother.  An iconic poster person of the Dust Bowl era.  Shot by the great Dorothea Lange.

Who could not be moved by Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother?  This is one of my favorite vintage photo.  In today's standard, the photo documentary can be considered flawed.  Yet everything about it seems to work. Lange used an uncorrected lens in most of her portraits.  She preferred the soft focus, which perhaps made this photo more appealing.  The softness aptly captured the mother's tenderness.  I heard that Lange staged this shot.  So in a sense, it is not candid.  But I don't care.  Whether it was contrived or not, the mother's anxious gaze appeared real to me.  

For this photo, Lange is known to have used a 4x5 format viewfinder camera.  I don't have one but perhaps one day I can get my hands on an old one.  So instead I used my Zeiss Ikonta medium format as prop.  My Ikonta goes back to late 1930's.  About the same time that the Dust Bowl happened.  I've fantasized about my Ikonta.  Perhaps it has been used to memorialize events nobody cared about.  Except for the photographer who took those photos.  Could have been at the Dust Bowl.

#StillLife #camera #VintageCamera #ZeissIkonta #DorotheaLange #monochrome #vertical #portrait #MigrantMother #scratched #textured #tripod #LongExposure #PhotoAsBackground #tribute #IAMGenerationImage #IconsBehindTheLensSeries

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Road Less Travelled

What is a poet?  A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music. – Soren Kierkegaard

Days have been terribly lonely.   I am chasing the wind and whistling in the dark.  Today the leftover steak that Rose cooked two weeks ago before she left will be all gone.  I have been rationing myself with the meat as I was too lazy to cook.  I'm lazy because I have forgotten how to cook.  I think the last time I made Sloppy Joe was 20 years ago.  Besides, I don't have all the ingredients to make Sloppy Joe.  Don't think this is the time to experiment.  My hope is that I could be in the Guiness Book of Record to have survived on a single piece of steak for two weeks.  I haven't eaten anything else.  At least, nothing substantial.  Liquid food like  wine and beer do not count.  I may be on my last bottles of liquid food.  Sooner or later I need to go out and replenish my supply.  Again I am too lazy - even going out seems like a chore.  I may have forgotten how to drive.  This could pose a problem when I fetch Kamilah at the airport next week.  If we survived the traffic, I could let Kamilah pick up Rose the following day.  

It is very cold today.  I'm typing this post outside because I am smoking a Cuban.  Rose would never allow me to smoke inside the house.  My cell phone tells me it's 52 degrees F and it's already noon time.  My fingers are freezing.  I'm such a weakling in terms of cold.  I don't have enough fat to keep me warm, which is one reason we live in Southern California.  So I decided to smoke because the forecast is it will be raining soon.  Perhaps for another couple of days.  This could be the only time to smoke before it rains.  

So much for that.  I have now forgotten why I'm writing in the first place.  I can be easily distracted.  I'm one of those who needs to focus because I can't multitask. "Concentration slips way, because your baby is far away..." There is a neat line in the Crosby Stills and Nash song that goes, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with."  Nowadays, I'm loving the dog and the cat.  They have been keeping me warm during the nights.  We would snuggled up in this little sofa with an army blanket.  Both of them would be competing who gets to sit on my face.  

I realized that I'm not much of a dog person.  Walking the dog everyday can be quite a challenge.  Especially when she poops on somebody's front yard.  I'm always on the look out if the neighbor catches us with this situation.  I think I'm more of a cat person as they tend to be less maintenance.  Although our cat is 16 years old and requires a lot of maintenance.   For instance, he demands to have a clean litter every time he uses it, which is like every hour.  We should have trained him how to use the toilet.  Once, we had another cat who almost learned how to do it.  In the end, we just gave up.  The cat won and he had his litter back.

So here I am - somewhat home alone.  It's been almost two weeks since Rose left for the Philippines.  I guess I can go at it alone for another week.

If you have gone reading this far, you may be asking what the picture above has to do with my rambling.  The honest answer is nothing.

#Flickr #StillLife #conceptual #blur #vignette #guitar #FretBoard #Music #IAMGenerationImage #macro #CloseUp

ISO 1200 Magazine | Photography Video blog for photographers: Bert Stephani reviewing the Fuji X100T on street p...

ISO 1200 Magazine | Photography Video blog for photographers: Bert Stephani reviewing the Fuji X100T on street p...

Friday, December 12, 2014

I think my rose needs some Southern California soaking

To borrow my friend's wit: This image certainly stirred a disturbance and the gods offered sympathy and willingly drops of very cold water from heaven come tumbling down, profusely... today....

#rose #DriedRose #petals #WhiteBackground #StillLife #botany #flower #DriedFlower #stem #macro #CloseUp #flash 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's always sunny in Socal

While the rest of the country is knee deep in snow, my flowers think it's spring time.

#macro #flower #collage #botany#Canon60d #CarlZeiss100mm #JuznoOfTheDay

Monday, December 08, 2014

Smile like Nirvana

Once in a while I'll go through my archive and see an apparently botched shot and then I'll ask myself what was I thinking.  This botched shot is cool.  A lot of times it was my state of mind.  I was seeing the trees for the forest, which can happen when I have taken several shots - perhaps scores and scores that I couldn't see the forest anymore.

Jackie came with her dad and her sister one winter morning.  "What do I do?" she asked as she gazed at her cell phone.

"Uhmm ... do a few somersaults and we'll see how that work," I answered as I moved the soft box lighting.

Jackie looked at me with disbelief - still holding to her cell phone.  Worst is her dad's yellow teeth started to reveal how ugly they were.  Well that obviously didn't go well.

"Maybe I'll play some stuff from Tony Bennett."

"Who is he?"

"Maybe you can ask your dad... Look, just be yourself.  Maybe think of good thoughts.  Do you like ice cream and hot apple pie?"

"Hmm... ice cream and hot apple pie."

Click.  Check the view finder.  Nah ... file under archive.  Maybe one day I'll print it.

Today is that day.

#portrait #AsianWoman #YoungWoman #EyesClosed #smiling #Brownhair #square #SquareFormat

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Sir Walter Raleigh is such a stupid get, and Satan is talking to his nearest mate, with head lifted up high.  Make me another shot of that absinthe.  The dregs are wormwood. And fire up that last stogie we shared – I think it’s no longer wet.  I wanna take you higher.  Oh, sleep - it is a gentle thing. 

I remember watching Woodstock.  I mean the original one.  Not there physically.  But in the movie and the record.  I was too young to be there.  So vicariously I try to live the moment by listening to the scratched vinyl record I borrowed from an older schoolmate.  This was early 70’s.  Maybe ’73.  I had just taken my first hit of pot and I thought I was one of the coolest guys in school.  The experienced seemed to have changed everything.  From a young scrawny punk to a damned-right-I-got-the-blues kid.  I was still a punk.  That never changed.  What changed was the right of passage.   It’s like smoking my first cigarette.  My grandpa taught me to smoke when I was 10. 

Oh yea, Woodstock.  Quite frankly, I was more impressed with the film footage than the music itself.  I had already been listening to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and the music that got played at Woodstock bored me.  Even the famous Star Spangled Banner that Hendrix played sounded old.  It’s not the musicians’ fault.  Or anybody’s.  I was merely two years too late.  

#Flickr #portrait #smoke #cigar #AsianWoman  #conceptual #textured #EyesClosed #culture #Lensbaby

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Desolation seen back in time through a tarnished window

My grief is my solace.  The world around me is dead.  Sometimes I try to think of my youth and my first love but my memories are all blurred.  Were they all just dreams - of longings and hope and youthful desires?  I have lost the art of remembering.  I have become a master at forgetting.  I do so effortlessly.  I have consigned all past things to oblivion.  They are to be forgotten - so that they can be remembered.

#Flickr #portrait #blackandwhite #BW #woman #oldwoman #textured #grainy #gritty #square #SquareFormat #NightTime #conceptual #melancholy #desolation #Loneliness #Time #Age #window #LookingThroughWindow #Story #fujifim #xpro-1

Monday, December 01, 2014

Harnessing Jack Bauer

I live in a somewhat boring community -  a middle class suburbia in the middle of four counties. People sometimes asked where I am from. One time in Marrakesh, a Moroccan vendor asked me where I was from.  I quickly replied, "Iceland."  Without hesitation, he told me that he had lots of friends in Iceland.  I lied and I thought he did too.  The next vendor asked the same thing and I told him I was from "Idaho".  He told me he knew a lot of people in Idaho.  It doesn't matter.  All they want is to small talk you to gain your confidence.  There would be times that I wanted to tell them that I actually live in Los Angeles and I personally know who Jack Bauer is.  In fact, the story of Mr Bauer was borrowed from my own when I used to work for the FBI.  I've faced near death so many times but I was always able to escape.  I can't tell them all the events that have happened but I hinted that most of the events in the television series were based on true stories.  Such is my way to add excitement in my life. "Tita, give me another shot of Tequilia, will you?"

#portrait #JackBauer #people #BlackAndWhite #monochrome#lensbaby #blur #square #man #hipster #urban #retro #textured#grainy #candid #UnsuspectingProtagonist #portrait

Saturday, November 29, 2014

So what if the sun refused to shine?

For some time I’ve been staring at the walls, old magazines, old photos, my toenails that need clipping, my backyard that needs cleaning, some dead batteries and wondering how I will get rid of them, and the dark sky above me in the hope that some esoteric thoughts will jump out of my head. Ah but to no avail. I seem to have lost my way for the moment. I’m not sorry. Yet I am trying to find words of wisdom, something exalted that will transcend the melancholy. The world is full of angst, uncertainty, despair, and ugliness.

The year is almost over, and so I ask myself what have I accomplished and what have I learned.  In few short time since my retirement I have produced some decent art work - decent in a sense that they are acceptable to me but likely not marketable.  Do I care?  Of course I do.  I take it personally.  So I question myself what is the point if I know my work will be futile.  My left brain tells me that I should spend my time in something more profitable but my right brain says otherwise.  What is profitable?  I need to define the word first.

I've given some art pieces to this owner of a bar at the next city and he has not contacted me since - so I'm thinking that he has put my work in storage.  Probably right next to the bleach and cleaning materials, which he uses to sanitize his place.  You see I was hoping that an avid art collector might see one of my art peices and buy it for whatever that person may think it is worth.  One thing will lead to another.  My work is seen by other collectors because this person is very famous and influential.  Other people try to buy my work from him but he realizes how much more it is worth. Overnight, I become a famous artist.  My phone is ringing every second.  People want to get hold of my other work.  I get hounded by the press requesting for interviews.  The media is interested in what jeans I wear and whether I wear boxer shorts or briefs.  A cereal company wants me to endorse their bran flakes.  A bunch of activists wants me to be their voice for promoting wind energy.  Al Gore wants to have dinner with me.  I get all freaked out that I try to escape the media and everybody else. I keep resisting.  Eventually, I dwell into bad craziness so I contemplate on suicide.  I sign my suicide note as Faust - fully convinced that I have sold my soul for a meaningless life. 

As usual, I am giving in to the melancholy.  An expensive indulgence if I may.  

Perhaps, next time I'll write something more positive.

#smoke #opium #woman #asian #smoking #conceptual #blur #pipe #textured 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In their own worlds (Repost)

Originally posted on July 20, 2013

Selma: Oh, they are having a sale on prunes. Must cut this coupon.

Britney: Oh, oh ... he's taking a picture of me. I hope my lipstick is not all smeared from this Waldorf Salad. Do I have walnut between my teeth?

Susie singing along in her headphones: 她買了天國的階梯

Woman No. 4: Where is the nearest rest room?

Old Town Pasadena, California

Copyright 2014 Rob Castro

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lighting Set Up for Never Alone

Camera: Canon EOS 60D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm L f4 focal length 70mm
Flashes: Two- Canon 580ex ii, Two- Canon 430ex ii TTL mode
Light Modifiers: 12" Beauty Dish, 24" Beauty Dish, Theatrical Blue Gels
Iso 800,  f10, 1/250
White Balance: Daylight

There were two flashes covered with blue gels. One was place below the pipe and the other was behind her head. Then I put a small beauty dish above her head and covered it with a more transparent blue plastic - just enough to add some more blue on the hair but not on the face. There was a bigger beauty dish pointed to her nose. No blue gel here as I wanted her face to look normal. The light spills from the blue gels of the other light sources add a bit of hue to her face and I thought that was okay. I set the white balance on Daylight to make her face a bit warmer.

For the smoke, we just have to keep shooting until we got the result that we desired. I asked the model to practice smoking the pipe a few days before so I think that helped. By the time we were done, while I needed a smoke, my poor model told me that she was done smoking for the day.

#smoke #opium #woman #asian #smoking #conceptual #techniques #pipe

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Heavenlies (Repost)

Originally posted January 29, 2014

Dear Rob,

Yes, it's me.  I know I have not touched base for a long time.  So this may come as a surprise.

I have so many gloomy thoughts lately.  Everybody wants to give me spiritual advice so that I may weather my dark thoughts.  They are fine things but most of the advice are of idiotic priestly qualities that sum up why I am feeling the way I am: they are telling me I have low self-esteem.  Perhaps.

At the present moment, I have lost my taste for the current state of the visual art.  Every time I go to websites like Flickr and Facebook, all I see are mediocrities of utter proportions.  I look at these photos that are supposed to stimulate me and all I could think about is "So what?"  There is nothing compelling to see.  The street photography that I highly look up to has devalued into shades and blurs of mundane events - if you can even call them events - that does nothing to satisfy the soul.  I have tried to go back to nature photography.  Even that is pathetic.  Most of the ones I've seen have been shown before.  I think I can understand this deadly apathy for there is nothing new under the sun. 

Even the photo shots I attempted to make.

At least there is music.  I am still contemplating my response to Mr Mojo Rising as he shook my imagined reality into bits and fragments of made up illusions.  I now have taken refuge to listening to the classics: Berlioz, Brahms and the likes.  Their music is not classical in the real sense but my ignorance in classical music allows me to find that excuse in my music appreciation.  They say that music appreciation is subjective.  A rather profound statement if I may think so.  Because if appreciation is subjective, what is the basis for its subjectivity?  Shouldn't there be an objective standard to say that one is subjective?  If one can say, "that is subjective" then can that statement also be based on subjectivity?  "Well then, your statement is just as subjective as mine."  If all else - then everything is subjective.  Such a grim thought it seems to me.  Which means everything in this world is subjective.  For now, I shall table this problem when my thoughts are not as clouded.

Please excuse this silly banter as I have nothing better to write about.  Please drop me a line when you have a chance.  Until then,

Yours forever,


P.S.  I am attaching a photo of what I recently took while I still have the strength to take pictures of nature.  I feel that strength is waning.  Oh well.  Maybe you can look at it from a different perspective and let me know how it is.  Cheerio.


Somehow Juzno's letter fell into the hands of "M":

Dear Juzno, It’s me.   Well, lookie here… it’s Novela descending from heaven only this time, focused. I avoid giving and taking advice. But one thing’s for sure. I observe.Last week as I was on my way to blowing this pop shop, I looked to the west and saw an incredible sunset.I thought about you my friend and hoped that  you’d tuned in. What a drag if every sunset was exactly the same. Change is awesome and you look good in blue.

At this time, Juzno finds time to have the time to respond to Ms "M":

Dear "M",

Your genuine warmth and splendor has brought daylight into my melancholic moments.  Alas, I have been awaken from a momentary lapse of vitality.  Life is indeed good.  By the way, do I really look good in blue?  It may interest you to know that last night after reading your letter I have ordered on-line a dozen suits with matching ties and socks - all in Indigo Blue.  Why a dozen, you may ask. Well, I needed a least seven for each day of the week.  And then I wanted to have back-ups.  And back-ups of the back-ups.  And so on.  One cannot be too complacent nowadays.

I also see a glimmer of hope in the market.  The Dow slumped by almost 200 points at present.  That is good according to my broker.  He has given me wise advice to buy more stocks while they are cheap. I cannot question his wisdom for I am such a financial illiterate.  But I trust that all will be well.  He advised me to invest in blue colored corn.  That is why I thought your observation about me in blue was an epiphany.  I now own 0.00000000000000001% of Monsanto's genetically modified corn stocks.  I am hoping that by the end the year, my investment would reap its harvest.  That is assuming that the Republicans lose the House, and the Russians lift the ban on gays.

I will keep you posted on how my blue colored corn is doing.  Until then, I remain,

Verily yours,


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Stand By Me

I find it interesting that at times one has to resort to social media to get the exposure one needs to stand out.  I read somewhere that Picasso was very good at that.  He befriended the French Resistance while sipping wine with the Nazis.  The alternative is one dies and hopefully gets discovered after decades like what happened to Van Gogh and Vivian Maier.

What does this have to do with this picture?  Actually, nothing.

But the last few days, I've found myself hysterically campaigning to get my photo entry noticed that I've lose sight of the trees from the forest (or was that the other way around?)  In one of my previous post, I quoted Magnum founder Henri Cartier-Bresson, "You want to give something to know that somebody will accept it. In fact, when you love somebody, somebody will not turn you down, your love is accepted. And this is communication to me. To give something which is..."  At the end of the day, art should be about communicating.  That is sobering to me.  It is not about scoring points and receiving accolades - although that in itself is not bad.  But when that becomes the end, the pursuit of art becomes vain and empty.

I still think that the brilliant minds were able to convey their messages effectively through their art... perhaps they got their art published through some social connection but that's the way it is for most competing endeavors.  Social networking it seems is neither good nor bad -- but when it becomes quid-pro-quo then honest art is compromised.  At least, that's what I think.  But I would also like to think that my heroes in art never gave in to just be popular.  True art is about being true to oneself.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Are we afraid that heaven is a bribe?

Photo © 2014 Rob Castro

You may think that there is another reason for our silence about heaven - namely, that we do not really desire it . . .  It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Food Selfie Antithesis

With the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, most people can't resist taking pictures of the food they are about to eat.  I choose to do the opposite.  The photo above is what was left over from the seafood lunch that we just ate.  Hence, the poor viewer has no choice but to imagine what the food was like.  Some will think that is kind of cruel of me but I insist that it was out of mercy that I did it.

My sister-in-law celebrated her birthday at Gladstone in Malibu.  Her husband had ordered a seafood plate appetizer that was so huge it occupied our entire table.  Poor old husband had to leave to pick up his nephew at the airport so he didn't really enjoy his appetizer.  While he was gone, she, Rose and I all ordered two-pound lobster each.  At first glance, on the menu I thought it was $38 for the lobster.  Well it was -  except that it was $38 per pound.  Two Chardonnays, two ice teas, two cappuccinos and a shot of Macallan 18 year old whiskey later, our bill came to the neighborhood of $550.  All that was left was a few chips on the basket.  And her husband hasn't returned yet.  I thought that he at least deserved to know that we were very happy with our food and show proof that the only ones left were the chips.  After all, it was his credit card that my sister-in-law used to pay for our bill.

#food #macro #chips #CloseUp #NaturalLight #FoodSelfie #humor

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Surprised by Joy

I was experimenting with the custom white balance using the Expodisc on my Canon 60D the other day and I forgot to reset it back to Auto.  The next day when I used the 60D on this photo I was pleasantly surprised to see the unusual colors.  So I kept the color the way it is.  I just love it whenever I'll get these joyful "accidents".

#flower, #WhiteBalance

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thoughts on Babes, Cake and Candies (Repost)

Black and white photos tend look timeless in my opinion. As someone commented this is a Kodak moment. Though maybe Fujifilm -- the camera I used to shoot this -- will probably resent the reference to Kodak.

The picture of the two girls could have been taken in the 1950s. Yet they have just been captured last summer. That's 2012 for those of you reading in the future.

I like how their dresses appear 50'ish. Even their hairstyles look retrospective to me. Somebody told me it's called the Betsy Johnson look. Now I know what to tell my hair stylist next time I go for a hair cut.

And the M&Ms. Did you know they were created in the 40s so that the chocolate won't melt? 

The two girls are focusing on something other than the M&Ms -- that is a bit of a mystery because it is out of the frame. What was it?

#BlackandWhite, #children

Friday, October 10, 2014

How I create portraits (part 2)

Here are some examples of the before and after using the technique mentioned in Part 1:

Example A

Example B

Example C


Thursday, October 09, 2014

How I create portraits (part 1)

Here's a glimpse of my workflow:

I shoot everything in RAW and usually bracket my exposure.  Then I import my images in Lightroom 4 (LR4).  Out of the bracketed exposures, I choose one that seems right for me.  Here is a screen shot of the RAW image in LR4:

This was shot with the EF24-70mm f2.8 L ii mounted Canon 5D mk ii.  Focal length 70mm, 1/400 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, no flash fired, aperture priority.  Not an ideal camera to have for portrait but since that was what I carried at that time - it would have to do.  As one can see, there are a lot useless space on the image.  Cropping out those useless pixels would compromise the quality of the image but I didn't have much choice.  (My EF70-200mm f4 would have been a better choice but I left that at home.)

In LR4, I tweaked the image so it looks a bit better:

Exposure +0.45, Contrast +22, Highlights -100, Shadows +80, Whites 0, Black 0, Clarity +18, Vibrance 0, Saturation -3, Tone Curve (TC) Highlights 0, TC Lights +9, TC Darks -6, TC Shadows 0, Split Toning 0, Sharpening 25, Radius 1.0, Detail 100, Noise Reduction 0, Enabled Profile Corrections, Everything else is 0.

Then I export the image to Photoshop CS6.  Here is the image cropped at 4x3 portrait:

Using Silver Efex Pro 2, the image is rendered in black and white:

Then I remove the background using layers.  It is much easier for me to remove the background when the image is already in B&W.

I used Analog Efex Pro to add some grit and dirt:

Viveza for selective dodging and burning:

On a new layer, I then tamed the highlights on the nose and the beard using the brush tool and copying the grey tones that are on the image.

Then I created a vignette using Color Efex Pro 4 and was able to easily remove the name tag with a brush tool.  We are almost there.

Then I darkened the entire image using Viveza but I masked the face so it would not be affected.

I added a film grain using Color Efex Pro 4 to smoothen out the gradation on the background.

The last step is to create a copy using Shift+Alt+Cmd+E on the iMac.  Then I applied the hi pass filter that is built into CS6.  I applied a Radius of 1.8 pixel.

Change the blend mode to Soft Light and reduce opacity to 17%.  Viola!

Hope this helps.  Next time I will write about how I get my signature shoe polish look on the faces of my portraits.  Cheers.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Riva del Garda from a room with a view

Riva del Garda is a small town located in northwestern corner of Lake Garda, which is the largest lake in Italy. 

We were blessed to have a balcony overlooking the scenery.  The weather was near perfect.   

Friday, October 03, 2014

River Verona

Photo © 2014 Rob Castro

This was taken after Rose and I left the The Verona Arena (Arena di Verona), which is Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra in Verona, Italy built in 30 AD. (I'll see if I have any good shots of the amphitheatre for the next post.) We had to walk back to the cemetery where our coach was parked - probably a good 20 minutes walk - while the rest of our group took the taxi. On the way back, we passed this river. A mix of modern and antiquated architecture and gentrification.

Friday, September 26, 2014

St Bartholomew at the Duomo di Milano

Photos © 2014 Rob Castro

The statue of St Bartholomew draped in his own skin can be seen inside the Duomo Cathedral of Milan.    Made by Marco d’Agrate in 1562, it was originally not intended to be inside the cathedral.  It is believed that the saint was skinned alive.

When I first saw the statue, I was fascinated that it looked like a depiction of an alien from some science fiction movie.  Then an Italian woman next to me excitedly tried to explain what it was.  At first I couldn't understand what she was saying until I realized that there stands a man before me.  He is without a skin.  His every vein, artery, muscle, every fiber and tendon and tissue of the human frame are represented in minute detail.  At his back, his bearded head hangs.  He is carrying in his own skin. A hideous thing just thinking of the agonizing pain that he had gone through.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Duomo of Milan (series)

Photos © 2014 Rob Castro

The massive Duomo of Milan is a sight to see - inside and outside. As one will see in the photos I took, each facet is an artwork by itself. I'm told that the cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete.Even now, work on rebuilding it is still going on.

The outer structure is made of pink marbles. Depending on the time of day, it can look like beige or pink.

I decided to go B&W on this series. Whenever I visualize strong forms, I tend to render the photos in B&W. Honestly it was not my original idea. Outside the cathedral there were posters documenting the rebuilding of the Duomo,  And they were all fabulous B&W. So I borrowed the concept, and it seemed to work well.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite verses found in the Apostle Peter's first epistle: "As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)" I wonder if the builders of the cathedral were thinking of this passage. As one can see, sculptures of saints embellish the walls. The saints are the living stones being built up as Christ's church.

If my orientation is correct, the man should be beckoning towards west, which would be Spain and Portugal. Anything farther would be the New World, the Americas. Why was he pointing in that direction?  Perhaps, it is where the missionary journey should head to.  Or it could be as simple as beckoning the people to come inside the church.  I think I am reading too much.