Unsaturated Phat

Twice in the past month I’ve been tagged by friends on Facebook to participate in a black-and-white photograph challenge. Post 5 photos in 5 days. Pretty doable, as far as challenges go. So I’m in.

It’s been a great excuse to go spelunking through my collected photographs stored in the caverns of Google+ Photos. Just one click drains all color out of the most spectacular sunset or the most riotous bloom. The black-and-white result, at first, can seem flat and boring. But then…

In the absence of color, other aspects of the image step into the spotlight. Structure. Texture. Light. Shadow. Line. Almost the way an x-ray reveals what the eye doesn’t normally see. What’s left once you’ve removed the green from the grass? the aquamarine from the pool water? It’s an interesting second act for a photograph. Here are the dozen or so snapshots I chose for these challenges. (And a couple of wild cards at the end.) For those of you who love taking pics, this might send you running into your own albums on a hunt for buried treasure. I’ve discovered that I even prefer some photos as their b/w alter egos.


Twin Palms, Palm Springs



Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood



White Rose, Beverly Hills



The End of the Road, Venice Beach



“Fish in a Barrel”  –  Summer Snap Peas, West Hartford



Los Angeles City Hall – from Grand Park


Swimming Pool, Chamberlain Hotel, West Hollywood

Swimming Pool, West Hollywood


Date Palm, Rancho Mirage, California

Date Palm, Rancho Mirage


The Silvery Sea, Santa Monica

The Silvery Sea, Santa Monica


Burlwood Heart, Sculpture by Anne Shutan

Burlwood Heart, Sculpture by Anne Shutan (


Winter Grass, Rancho Mirage

Winter Grass, Rancho Mirage


Century Plaza Towers, Century City, California

Century Plaza Towers, Century City


Then I started to play around with some sunsets. One I took recently at the beach in Santa Monica. One taken by my friend Jenn at Tod’s Point in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. They’re just not very interesting in black-and-white. Lots of gray. The sky’s reflection on the water is such an integral part of the beauty of these scenes. But, what if…


Unreflected Sunset, Santa Monica


Distilled Sunset, Santa Monica

Distilled Sunset, Santa Monica



Unreflected Sunset, Tod’s Point, Old Greenwich (original photo by Jenn Myer Trainer)



Distilled Sunset, Tod’s Point, Old Greenwich (original photo by Jenn Myer Trainer)



The Hateful Column

-=- Throwback Thursday -=-

People who suffer from a fear of heights ought not to journey to the top of tall buildings. Say, the Eiffel Tower. How do I know this? Because… in the spring of 1983 I traveled to Paris with some friends – one of whom required my assistance on the trip back to terra firma from the top of the you-know-what. The image may be a bit blurred, but I still have a few divots in my shoulders from Lauren’s vice-like grip.



Tour Eiffel.

Blog Aside of the Day: Seems that whenever I go off in search of something useful, I bump into something interesting. Ferinstance, I just zipped over to Wikipedia to find how many steps to the top of Tour Eiffel, because I was going to wax dramatic over the 1,710-step crawl down the Tower.

But then my eye got caught on a passage about the opposition to the construction of this landmark – which came mostly from the community of artists in Paris. They formed a “Committee of 300” and published this petition in the newspaper:

“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection … of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal.”

Just shows you how wrong you can be, eh? Because what’s better than this ‘giddy, ridiculous tower’? Absolument rien.


The End (so far)

[090] Twins

I’ve logged nearly 150 miles in the pool since November, which is the good news. The bad news? My favorite swim trunks have been degraded to the point of scandal. So, today I found myself in the shopping nirvana that is the Century City mall, in pursuit of a swimsuit. I had done my homework and headed directly to H&M, which had what I was looking for. Sadly, I tried on three different styles in size MEDIUM before succumbing to the harsh reality: I still require the LARGE. You know, I’ve heard that they take liberties with women’s size labels. Why don’t men get this courtesy? What about size labels such as POTENT or BRILLIANT or PROSPEROUS?

[Sidebar] A thousand years ago, I had my first big-city job in New York and bought my first big-city winter overcoat. It was a brown tweed number, trench coat style with wide lapels. I felt very cool while keeping warm that winter. One cold night, I stopped to see my friend Kip at his parents’ house. His father opened the door and gave me a hearty welcome. “Steve! Well, you’re looking prosperous!” Now, I knew I had overpaid for that coat, but in that moment I felt entirely vindicated. I suddenly hoped summer would never come. It was some time before I learned the crushing truth: “prosperous” is a polite synonym for “fat” – as in “well fed” – used by very nice-if-somewhat-snarky New England WASPs. (I lived.)

Anyhoo, success. I found my swimwear for the next several hundred miles. But then it took longer to get to the cash register than it had taken me to get to the mall. And I was nearly asphyxiated when the charming little girls behind me smashed a vile vial of glitter nail polish on the floor. Their mother pretended not to know them while the employee (who would otherwise have been ringing up my purchase, thankyouverymuch) discovered the near impossibility of wiping up glitter-infused nail lacquer from a white marble floor.

And no, I will not model my new swimming costume for you. Maybe next time… when I’m sufficiently less prosperous. Hey – this post is not even about swimwear, or overcoats, or child terrorists. Hello! Focus people, focus!

aerial-centuryplazaThat mall has an immense underground parking structure, and I’m always a little relieved to find my way to any exit. Today’s roulette put me on Constellation Blvd and I found myself looking up at the crisply striped twin towers of Century Plaza against an endlessly blue sky. (Sometimes, the blog post just writes itself.) Here’s an aerial shot to show you how these 500-foot tall wedges stand in relation to each other. The six angles produce ever changing communication between these two giant sculptures.

Once a New Yorker always a New Yorker (no matter how much ankle-deep slush I no longer have to step in) – so the first time I heard someone refer to Century Plaza as “the twin towers”… my reaction could be summed up as fuhgeddaboudit!

My stance on this has softened somewhat since learning that these twinned towers in LA share something rather significant with the iconic Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center in NYC: their parentage. The same architect, Minoru Yamasaki, designed these buildings. What’s more, they were built around the same time. WTC was finished in 1973; Century Plaza Towers opened two years later. And the family resemblance is striking. Yamasaki favored aluminum cladding and narrow dark windows. These two side-by-side shots show the similar design elements:


Of course, New York’s Twin Towers were far more massive and 2-1/2 times taller than Century Plaza Towers. But as I stood looking up at the interplay of the twins here in LA, I couldn’t help recalling the same strained neck while standing between the North and South Towers of WTC, once upon a time. There was a time when this would have made me sad… but today I found myself happy to visit the California cousins of those noble old New Yorkers.


WTC-twin towers

Towering Twins

Day 090 #100happydays

P.S. I have just traveled here from the future! Well, little more than a week after the original date of this post. Because I found another shot in the album from that day. I didn’t use it in this post, as the trees interfered with the clean lines of the architecture. But I like the juxtaposition of the natural and built environments. So I’ll just sneak it in here, and return to my proper place in the timeline.



The End (so far)

[066] Art As Architecture

Imagine buildings designed by architects named Picasso, Miro and Rothko. Federico Babina did. This is a terrific exploration of artistic styles writ large.

Art and architecture are disciplines that speak and lightly touch each other, the definition and function of the architecture are changing constantly with the development of contemporary art. In this exercise of style I took pleasure imagining architecture steeped of art, designed and constructed through the interpretation of an artist’s language..It is easy to find the art hidden behind an architectural shape or see reflected a geometry of a building painted on a canvas. It is impossible to conceive of the history of art in exclusion from that of architecture.
– Federico Babina

Federico Babina

Federico Babina :: Serra

I’d be happy living in an Ellsworth Kelly (top) or a Frank Stella. Just sayin’.

Day 066 #100happydays

> Link to the artist’s site:

> Link to the blog I saw this on:

[031] DTLA

DTLA = Downtown Los Angeles

Most other cities just call their downtown cores “downtown”. But in LA, instead of being the center of local civilization, downtown is just another neighborhood. And it’s one that many Angelenos could live their whole lives without visiting – and no, not because they’re stuck in traffic.

I’ve been coming to LA since the early 90s. But it was only about five years ago that I actually set foot downtown. For decades, the area was just so dilapidated. Not only was there no real reason to go there, but it really was not a risk you wanted to take. Somewhat similar to the first time I visited South Africa in the mid-90s. We were staying with friends in a suburb of Johannesburg called Sandton. When we asked about a possible excursion into Joburg, our hosts looked at us in not-so-mock horror and asked, “Why would you want to do that?!”


Downtown Los Angeles with the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains

But Downtown LA has had a renaissance in the last 10 years with new office, hotel and condo towers and loft conversions… the addition of the LA Live! entertainment complex adjacent to Staples Center (home of the Lakers and a premier concert venue)… and Gehry’s exuberant Disney Hall jazzes up the classic arts complex of the LA Music Center. There’s even a cute little baby subway that runs between Hollywood and Downtown. It may have other stops, but really, does anyone care?


Bottega Louie

Thom and I lived in a loft right on Pershing Square when we first moved to LA four years ago. That was the longest month of our lives, thanks to the garbage trucks making their rounds at 3am, picking up giant dumpsters along Broadway and tossing them into their cavernous maws. The Bush Administration had a name for this: shock and awe. It was an exquisite form of torture. But we made some great discoveries in DTLA during that monthlong incarceration. Bottega Louie is still one of my favorite restaurants in LA. On weekday mornings, it is just a quiet little Parisian cafe. Evenings and weekends, the cavernous white space (a former Brooks Brothers store) comes to life as a see-and-be-seen super-bistrot. There’s Little Tokyo, where you can forget that you are in North America for awhile. There’s an arts district with galleries occupying the street level of Beaux Arts buildings – that stand in as various parts of NYC on tv and film shoots. One night in LA, I saw them make it rain… in the middle of the day… in New York. Movie magic!

LA.Central Library

Central Library

Truth be told, though, I don’t get downtown very often. It’s just not on the way to anywhere. I did have a great reason to head downtown last week for a ‘book chat’ with one of my favorite authors, Armistead Maupin. The event was held at the Central Library, which was built in 1926 and is now almost trampled underfoot by the 1000-ft monsters all around it. The Central Library is a beautiful but odd mix of architectural influences, from the pyramid-topped tower to the Mediterranean-ish design of its wings. Surrounded by low pools, steps and allees of cypress, it is a charming bit of yesteryear – and it works.


Library Tower

As I left the event that night, I stepped outside and looked up the skirt of LA’s tallest building. Its current sponsor is US Bank Corp, so you’ll hear it referred to as the “US Bank building”. But that is as soulless a moniker as they come. From the time this skyscraper’s foundations were being dug in the late 80s, locals have rather lovingly called it the “Library Tower” after its short, bookish neighbor. And that name persists, because it is better than anything else anyone has tried to call it. Library Tower was destroyed by the very bad aliens in their very big spaceships in the film Independence Day. It was also laid low by crazy tornados in The Day After Tomorrow. And it slid into the Pacific with the rest of LA when the world ended in the flick 2012.


LA City Hall

As I made my way that night out of downtown, I turned on Grand Ave and was immediately gifted with a magnificent view. I pulled over, put on my flashers, and hoped this would not be a $1000 photograph. There, across a small valley, was the iconic LA City Hall. There was a little mist in the air, and I didn’t even have to squint to imagine I had stepped back into the 40s. Funnily enough, this is another bit of Los Angeles that (a) is topped by a pyramid, and (b) was fried by nasty aliens and their ray guns in the 1953 film version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. I guess it’s cheaper for Hollywood to destroy local stuff than to have to go on location. But gosh, go pick on Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that city destroyed by anything: weather, space goons or big bad monsters. Unless you count Rod Blagojevich. Just sayin’.

It’s a strange place, but DTLA makes me happy.
Day 031 #100happydays

[016] Snapping Janus

In November 2012, The Weather Channel (note: not the National Weather Service; but that’s another post) decided to begin naming winter storms, after the convention for hurricanes. I suspect this had something to do with the arrival of “Super Storm Sandy” in New York a few weeks earlier. Sandy brought catastrophic damage over a wide area. It was a named storm because it was a tropical system occurring before the official end of “hurricane season” on November 30th. But what about non-tropical storms… that slam into us in January? 

go away ireneI can understand why TWC wants to talk about storms by name. These massive meteorological monsters threaten us; we perceive them as living, breathing entities. They are unpredictable, fascinating, awesome, frightening… real. Naming a storm puts a label on our mental file-folders where all of our individual and shared experiences can be stored. A hurricane or blizzard is not a person, but these storms do get personal – whether they are delaying your flight halfway across the country, or submerging your neighborhood in seawater, or temporarily transforming your familiar gritty cityscape into a white, fluffy meadow. When a potentially deadly storm is bearing down on you, it helps (somehow) to be able to tell it how you really feel (on the plywood you just tacked up over your windows).

And so, New York is now buried in the remnants of Winter Storm Janus. A combination of powdery snow and frigid temps (Polar 20140120_TWC_JANUSVortex 2.0) has transformed Gotham into a thousand small towns. Having lived in NYC at several junctures along my own timeline, I know that you live in your neighborhood, for the most part. You might live uptown and work downtown, but your staples are within a few blocks of your nest. The dry cleaner, Korean market, gym, Chinese take-out and the bagel place on the corner. When Mother Nature slows things down, your neighborhood becomes your whole world, for a little while. And no matter how much kvetching goes on about the tragic inconvenience of it all, the truth is: most New Yorkers secretly (or openly) love the change of pace. If The City That Never Sleeps is forced to take a nap, well, who are we to argue? Janus did it.

That’s also the difference between a hurricane and a snowstorm. Heat is energy, and that is what makes a hurricane such an energetic, dangerous event. Not that a blizzard is without danger.

Photo by Vivienne Gucwa

Photo by Vivienne Gucwa

But our language betrays how we relate to the snow. It blankets us. It brings a hush. It creates a winter wonderland. (Unless you’re homeless or without heat; but that’s another post.)

New York in the snow is a phenomenon most easily appreciated by a New Yorker. Snow slows you down the way nothing else can, and that’s when you see a million details that you miss at the normal speed of life. Horizontal lines emerge in the vertical cityscape: tree branches, power lines, fencing, awnings, rooflines. Everyday objects become cloaked with visibility. You never notice the fire hydrant on your corner, but you know that’s what’s under that 3-foot lump of snow. The sapping of energy from this most energetic of cities is most noticeable at night. Snowfall in the woods seems natural. Hearing your boots crunch in the snow (and no other sound) as you walk down the middle of Lexington Ave… that would be unnerving if you weren’t so full of the wonder of it.

The NYC photos posted here were taken last night by Vivienne Gucwa. Google+ thought I’d be interested in her work, and put it in front of me this morning. So I am enormously grateful to that algorithm – and to Ms Gucwa. Here’s a link to her blog post on Janus, where you can find her galleries on Flickr. I’m somehow resisting the urge to start clicking because I know I’ll never stop, and I have a little work to get done now. I hope you’ll enjoy her work, whether you are a New Yorker, an ex-pat or anyone who appreciates the frozen romance of the American Metropolis.

New York City in the snow – and Vivienne Gucwa’s artistry with a camera – make me happy.
Day 016 #100happydays

[001] #100happydays

Moon Over PDC

Moon Over PDC

I have a South African friend who lives in Oman. Lois grabs life by the horns – and anything else she can get her hands on. She goes off on adventures to India, to Nepal, to Vietnam, to wherever is next… journaling her experiences and snapping the most captivating photography.

Lois just posted her participation in this #100happydays project.

I’m in, too. And I hope you’ll join us. Snap a picture of one thing that makes you happy each day, for 100 days. It’s not a competition or a contest. Everyone wins. I’m drawn to this because I want to pay closer attention to the easy-to-miss moments that make me smile or laugh or appreciate something or someone… that are over before they begin. And it may be a challenge to capture some of this with an image. Which makes it fun.

I’ll share each day’s photo on Twitter, and expand on it a bit here. I posted today’s photo at the top of this post. A few hours ago I was playing around with one of the filters on my phone camera, getting shots of the colorful Pacific Design Center here in West Hollywood. That made me happy. And off we go.