I paid a visit to The Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley a few days ago, and I have to say I just don’t get it.
It was cool. Ultra cool. I was expecting hot.
The museum anchors a small campus of black cubes of glass and tile. Some of the buildings appear to have their support structure on the outside, their frames seemingly held together from the corners by gray threaded tension members with giant turnbuckles that cross their faces, suggesting a bit the crossbones normally topped by a skull. But no skull.
The exposed structure, straight edges and the near-black glass surfaces of the cubes seem intended to reflect an impression of technology and is remarkably free of surface detail and flourishes.
The generic-fonted tile sign that identifies the museum is so enormous that it makes humans look “like little ants.” Or so commented the rider from Allegan, Michigan when he saw the picture I took of him and his lady in front of it.
The iconic HD shield is literally put in a small steel cage at the far end of the building, along with the statue of, I don’t know, some guy falling off an old Harley.
The architecture and graphics strike me as completely out of character, since Harley’s brand rests on creating bikes that appear to have been designed with decades – centuries - old technology. Most Harley riders spend a lifetime bolting on additional “stuff” such as fairings, lights, saddle bags, chrome plated pieces and leather fringe. They are positively exuberant about making their bikes look as flamboyant as possible, as if being really loud was not enough to get noticed.
On such a beautiful day to ride, I anticipated a level of excitement and maybe even awe in the riders as they rolled in. But they seemed to be experiencing the same reaction as me.
I was baking in the heat, (got to see what it would cost to get the AC fixed) and praying for the light to change so that some air would begin moving through the windows, when I saw Jesus. Actually, I saw His car.
This didn’t appear to be a storefront church, really. More of a shrine. The front window, facing the corner of the intersection, was dominated by a soft Shroud-of-Turin kind of image of Jesus, mounted on some kind of gold metallic foil.
Parked on the side street was a “warning from God” in the form of a 1993 Nissan Altima. I am not mocking anyone’s beliefs - this is, literally, what I was told by the man who drives the car and rents the store.
“Is this your car?” I asked when he appeared.
“Well it all belongs to Him, doesn’t it? Let’s just say He’s letting me use it.”
I learned his name is Jeff and he was very anxious to talk about the image of Jesus, which was reproduced in a variety of media, including on the postcards he took out of the Nissan and handed to me. “I took this picture with a Polaroid camera”, he exclaimed, “It’s an apparition!”
Jeff is a missionary of sorts who evangelizes a Catholic cult (I think that’s an appropriate use of the word) that is all about “miraculous” images of Jesus. He testifies that he was at some kind of a rally and snapped the Polaroid in which Jesus made His appearance.
Start Googling this and you will find that there is a whole Catholic sub-culture that is centered around apparitions of Jesus and Saint Veronica. Veronica is believed by some to have offered a cloth for Jesus to wipe his face, which miraculously produced an indelible image.
Apparently, (a deliberate choice of the word) the apparition of Jesus, Veronica or Mary has evoked a primeval reaction in some people who see the meaning of life in images which to the rest of us seem to be pictures that “didn’t come out”.
The particular image of Jeff’s that clearly shows a face is no photographic aberration. In my professional opinion, it’s a picture of a physical object – apparently (there’s that word again) a statue that Jeff didn’t see when he pointed the camera.
Jeff says that we are headed for WWIII followed by a comet smashing into the Earth (the comet is actually good news as it incinerates the poisonous nuclear residue from the war) and that those who are right with Jesus will be tucked away while all this happens. Then they will be put back on the cinder that is the Earth, where God will give them another chance to get it right.
Just as abruptly as he had appeared, Jeff told me that he had to go, and began an intense conversation with some people who I would describe as his followers.
All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell
I read this blog about "tilt/shift" lenses and it inspired this collection of images.
(NOTE TO NEW READERS: This post is considerably more photo-geeky than normal. Enjoy the images, but feel free to scroll down for more representative topics ;-)
"Tilt/shift" is a photographic technique where the "film" plane is tilted and/or shifted out of its standard position parallel to, and centered behind, the lens. The effect of tilting the "film" is that the area of the image that is in focus slices through the scene at an angle. (The effect of shifting the film can compensate for perspective when doing architectural photos, for example.)
These images were not produced by a tilt/shift lens, but rather using a selective mask and a Photoshop filter called "Lens Blur".
Once I got going, I tried combining this technique with some other filter effects.
Anyway, the effect can be used to control the viewer's eye, which naturally gravitates to the the sharpest area of a photo. The effect can be either subtle or quite dramatic.
It has another effect which is quite interesting. Because your brain has been trained by looking at so many photographs, sometimes it will interpret the subjects in images like this as being very small - or toylike. (This is because when you photograph something very small, the depth of field - the area in focus - tends to be very shallow.)
I am pretty straight when it comes to photography, I usually keep my processing to correcting contrast levels and cropping. This was fun and I think some of the images are quite interesting...
All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell
The freeway system is a major component of any functioning American city.
While “New Urbanists” decry the freeway system as a primary cause of the devolution of our cities, freeways also enable a large percentage of workers to reach their jobs, make it possible to buy fresh oysters in the heart of Milwaukee and deliver Milwaukee's manufactured goods from one end of the country to the other.
I’m not going to debate the virtues of freeways, but I can tell you that I personally have spent way too much of my life driving on one in particular; the loop of I-94 between Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis (which includes this intersection of I-94 and I-43 in the heart of Milwaukee.) On the other hand, if I-94 didn’t exist, I would have seen much less of my family that is spread around the Great Lakes basin.
The fact is that to interstate travelers, the freeway is the face of the city. Many commuters hardly touch the surface streets except between the freeway ramp and their parking space – often above or below street level.
But what interested me is the presence of this mammoth structure as experienced from the streets of Milwaukee.
While hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks flow overhead and in trenches below, what does the Marquette look like from one’s feet, standing on the pavement below? What does it look like from the “outside”?
On the morning I decided to shoot, the air hung with water which wrung itself out on my lenses as I worked. When I began to edit the images, I was not happy with the overall softness and they way it obscured the lines and textures. So I did something a rarely do. I opened up the Photoshop filter box.
I found that posterizing these images by limiting the number of colors and adding dark lines to edges, gave me a really satisfying effect.
The embossed designs in the concrete and metal rails and the edges of each component that define the structures stood out in the way that I had seen them. And yet the flat light that had yielded such a 2-dimensional, graphic look was preserved, resulting in a comic-book kind of look, which seems appropriate for such a monumental work.
So, I am not a big fan of urban freeways that bisect neighborhoods and emphasize the smallness of the humans who live there in their shadows. But you have to admit, this is one beautiful freeway.
I was out shortly after sunrise on a day when the air was partially liquid. You couldn’t exactly say it was raining, but water dripped from everything.
I had been working in the Menomonee River Valley on a series of photos of the Marquette interchange, which I will post soon.
I wound up at Miller Park, and saw the signs. “CAR SALE”.
I arrived about an hour before it started. There were a few “lookers” – Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros and a smart car - parked up front, but even from a distance, I could see that these were just not very interesting vehicles. I was immediately approached by a salesman. Taking advantage, I asked him if they had any coffee in the tent. He happily invited me in, and I gratefully drew a short cup of coffee, my first of the morning.
About 25 salesmen were milling around inside the tent, looking limp from the dampness. The man in charge called the morning meeting. I decided to stay.
“Good morning! Don’t worry. None of you are sweet enough to melt!”
He introduced the sales managers from the several dealerships that were participating, pointed out the key board, and proceeded to read the rules of the event.
“There are no splits here, there are no splits here, and there are no splits here.”
“There are no splits here.” “If you drop your customer, you lose them.”
“There will be a Greeter stationed at the tent door who will ask for their first name, zip code and how they found out about the sale. From then on, it’s up to you.”
“You must accompany on every test drive. Put the car back where you got it. Do NOT park them up here near the tent. Return the keys to the board. Keys are either in your hand, in your pocket or in the ignition. DO NOT lay keys on the desks. We do not want to waste time running around looking for keys!”
“We have a $3,200 Push, Pull or Drag on trade-ins, and we’re matching cash down up to $1,500. They have to put down 15 to get the 15. If they put down 5, we match 5. There’s a $200 coupon on the Internet. Don’t tell them about the coupon if they don’t know about it.”
“There are “star cars” here. One, two, three, up to six stars. Each star is worth $50. If you deliver a six star car that’s $300.”
“Do not negotiate or make any promises without consulting with a manager. We do not want someone coming in to the store on Tuesday morning saying that the salesman said they would put four new tires on the car. Just bring them into the managers. They will make the delivery.”
“All right, let’s get out there and have some fun!”
A small cheer went up. It was from the crowd at nearby Helfaer Field, a Little League park that occupies the site where the old County Stadium once stood.
Of course there were no customers yet, and on a wet Wednesday morning, it was likely to be a while before any showed, so most of the salesmen began to gather in small groups near the tent where they talked about golf, cars and golf umbrellas.
A few began to walk the lines of vehicles, making a mental inventory. Opening doors, reading stickers, getting wet.
Eventually, prospects began to trickle in, most slipping in gaps in the snow-fencing around the lot rather than entering through the tent, apparently attempting to avoid detection by the salesmen.
The men got to work, attaching themselves to every person as soon as they appeared on the lot. As they will for the next four days of the “Thriller at Miller”.
I hope the weather gets better.
All words and images copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009
Born in Detroit.
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