Inspiration Photos & Projects

Finding details in the city: part 1 – International District – Guest post by Carlos Argott

Leica/Lomo Still Life

It’s very easy to be excited about all the new photographic opportunities when one is traveling, but sometimes it becomes much harder to feel inspired in the city where you live. At some point, you feel like everything is pedestrian and already seen, you see it every day after all! But there’s more to the character of a city than just the usual street photography shots and the landmark locations. Sure, everyone has seen and photographed the Space Needle, everyone has looked for the typical cityscape, and thousands upon thousands of photos are taken daily in the Pike Place Market.

A sudden inspiration

It had been a while since I had gone out into my own town with camera in hand and a real intention to shoot a roll of film, but a few days ago, I happened to walk out into the International District area of Seattle when some of the most gorgeous afternoon light happened to be streaming down from in between some clouds. Now, you’ve got to remember that here in Seattle we get around 200 days of cloudy skies so the sun is always a welcome novelty, especially when it’s one of those soft golden light days. On that particular day, a misplaced glass bottle caught my eye, not because it was very interesting in and of itself, but because the light at that moment happened to just work.

It made me start noticing these small little vignettes and still lives that are part of the experience of living in the city. They go mostly unnoticed through becoming part of the usual background, but this bottle inspired me to go home and grab a camera and pay more attention to those small details; to try to find some beauty and interest in the mundane everyday scenes that I walk by every day.

I decided too, to try to turn this into a full project, to try to capture a more intimate portrait of Seattle by walking through some of its neighborhoods doing this. I decided to dedicate a full roll to each neighborhood and I choose and keep the photographs simple, try to let the hidden aesthetics of the urban environment come forward. Perhaps these images will only resonate with those who enjoy city living, I don’t know, but it would be my hope, to maybe show to someone who doesn’t like dense urbanization, that there can still be beauty in this environment.

The results

Here are the images that I selected from this roll, I’ve also included a short text for each to describe the feeling or idea that I perceived for that image and why I decided to take it.

Making a jewel out of a discarded bottle, the light rays shimmer behind the logo of a Seattle corporation, in sharp contrast to the deep blue surrounding it.

 

Even in the concrete jungle, nature always keeps a foothold, always reminding us that we are there but for its grace, and she will reclaim what she rightfully owns at the slightest distraction.

 

Another splash of color contrasts with the muted tones that surround it, a note of intensity that was as unnecessary as it is appreciated.

 

Texture everywhere, even where a monochromatic palette tries to homogenize the landscape, the ridges tell a story of weathering.

 

It might be just a utilitarian staircase in a strip mall, but the intense red in the steps and the wooden trim under the handrail hint at a surprising attention to detail for such a pedestrian piece of urban infrastructure.

 

Discarded and useful to no one no more, but still shining electric blue refusing to be lost in a sea of refuse.

 

The sacred and the profane intermix in the city, the jewel fish tagged with a crude graffiti.

 

Teal and orange, straight out of the fantasy of Hollywood into the reality of daily life.

 

And underneath the chaos, there is rhythm, the heartbeat of the city, punctuated by random happenstance.

 

Life giving sustenance through death, the whole circle of life hanging behind a dirty pane of glass.

 

Red and yellow, and peeling paint, and splintered wood and the eternal fight against rust.

 

A rough life for the infrastructure, but no less dull in color for all its wear.

 

The technical details

I’ll give a few technical details because I know some people will want to know and as much as we all know that it’s the photographer and not the gear, we all also love to talk about gear, so here goes.

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All these shots were taken using a Leica M7, with either a 35 or 50 Summicron.

For film, I chose the Lomography F2, one of those odd special edition films that they sometimes come out with, I wanted a film that would go well with the urban aesthetic and I figured Lomography would do the trick. I like the film overall and it seems to have decent latitude if perhaps a bit more grain than would be expected for a 400 speed film.

There was also a slight green cast on most images that I corrected with some simple color balance adjustments in Lightroom. In a few of the images I also added a bit more contrast since the resulting negative is somewhat flat (this does give you overall more room to play since it means both shadows and highlights keep good amounts of detail). The green cast wasn’t all that terrible and it does seem to make the green tones in images really pop (like the blades of grass in picture number 2).

I hope you enjoy these images, and perhaps some will inspire you to stop and look around, and find some time to look more closely at your cities every now and then.

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4 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Tobias Eriksson
    August 10, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Lovely pictures, lovely colours.

  • Reply
    Finding details in the city: part 2 - Georgetown - Guest post by Carlos Argott - 35mmc
    October 27, 2017 at 8:07 am

    […] the same way that in my previous photo essay I focused on small details that I would’ve normally ignored. For this second part I decided to […]

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Barnaby Nutt
    July 19, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Good stuff, especially putting some words to go with the pictures. I believe that many photographers could benefit by trying to describe in some way their reasons for taking the pictures and what it represents to them. If you can’t think of anything to write, chances are, the pictures not very interesting.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      C. Argott
      July 22, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      Yeah, I have found that -at least for me- it really improves the quality of the images I capture if I have something that I am trying to say; either a narrative or a visual description (like in this essay). I am trying to move more towards that kind of more meaningful image making, and it’s always nice to get feedback on that. Thanks Barnaby.

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