Saturday, November 16, 2013

Music in Schools

I am on the board of the Corrales Cultural Arts Council, a volunteer organization founded in 1988.   The CCAC presents an annual series of eight general-audience concerts by world-class performers (ranging from classical to jazz to Celtic and folk) held in an 1868-vintage adobe mission church in Corrales.  

In addition, CCAC provides a "Music in Schools" program to schools in Corrales and neighboring areas at no cost.  The MIS program includes interactive music education as well as performances by some of the artists from the general-audience concert series, who come in the day before their concert to perform for the kids.

Yesterday, I attended (and photographed) the Music in Schools event with African-American singers Rodrick Dixon and Alfreda Burke (tenor and soprano).  They are internationally-known performers whose repertoire includes opera, Broadway, spirituals, and popular music.  They were also featured in a public TV program, "Hallelujah Broadway," distributed by American Public Television in 2010.  You can read more about them here.

The venue was the Corrales Elementary School, where 250 2nd through 5th graders assembled in the gymnasium.  The set-up was simple:  an electronic keyboard, CD player, microphones, and speakers.

But for almost an hour Rod and Alfreda transformed the harshly-lit, Spartanly-decorated gym into a concert hall with a mix of show tunes ("Somewhere" and "Tonight" from West Side Story, "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel), classical (short selections of German lieder, French chanson, and Russian opera), and popular songs . . .



  . . . capped by a rousing audience participation version of the spiritual "Witness."

For an encore, they sang "Sing a Song" from Sesame Street and, in response to a request from the audience, the Barney song ("I Love You").

The kids were well-behaved, interested, and enthusiastic, and everyone had a great time!

If you would like to see these images (and more), visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shooting with a 50

                              A work of art occurs when imaginative energy is successfully contained 
                              within a structure.

                                                                   -- Michael Spiller

                              True freedom must be won within the confines of the rules.

                                                                   -- Jean Cocteau

Back in the days before there were zoom and interchangeable lenses, cameras had only lenses with a fixed focal length.  The most common fixed-length lens was a 50mm.  Renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson used a Leica camera with a 50mm lens for almost all his images.  (Learn more about him here.)

Until recently, I had never owned or used a fixed-length lens with my SLR cameras; I had always used some sort of zoom lens.  But I was interested in seeing what discipline a fixed-length lens would bring to my photography, so I bought a used 50mm; removed the big 18-135mm wide-angle zoom lens from my camera body; and put on the 50.  After a few trial shots in the back yard, it was time to take it out for a spin.

I headed out last Sunday (Nov. 3) for Albuquerque's South Valley neighborhood, home of the annual Dia de los Muertos y Marigolds parade and celebration.   

It's a wonderful event, tailor-made for photography . . . especially people photography.  (See last year's post with images here.) 

AAAACK ! ! !

With the zoom lens, my eye and my hand were an unconscious and smoothly functioning duo, framing shots with a flick of my wrist.  But with the 50mm, I couldn't frame a shot by just twisting the lens.  It's a fixed length; it doesn't zoom!

If I wanted to get a close-up, I had to really move in, to the point where my presence was obvious and I had to engage the subject, either verbally or by gesture, and indicate that I'd like to take their picture . . . no lurking and zooming in with the lens from afar.

And if I wanted a wide shot, I had to step back . . . and keep stepping back . . . which was a challenge, since I was operating in a crowded space with people constantly moving around and through the shot -- lots of photo-bomb opportunities.

In any case,  with the fixed-length lens, I had to move my entire body: compose with my feet.  It was an unsettling physical experience, and it took me a while to get used to it.  

I've got lots of shots where heads or hands are out of the frame:

At first, it was maddening.  But eventually I began to get the hang of it:


What I learned:  the 50mm is good for close-ups and/or portraits, not wide shots in a visually busy environment (with a few exceptions; see below).  So with a little practice, things got better.

Solo shots . . .

 Pairs . . . 

And, with a little creative positioning on my part (sitting on the ground, as I frequently do!), even a threesome . . .

By the end of the day, I understood the close-up "rules" of the 50mm lens and was winning my freedom to create some images I liked (as above).

I also learned that rules can be broken under certain circumstances . . . as with these wide shot exceptions (and a little help from Lightroom):

If you would like to see these images (and more) in a larger format, you can visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.