21 October 2007

Backstage at Versailles

left to right: moi, Laurent Hissier, Dr. Erling H. Wold II, Emily Swift-Jones, Daniel Sievert, Pierre LeFumat, and the hunk on the end is a carpenter named Alexandre
During our recent trip to Paris, evil twin Emily Swift-Jones,  Erling and I made a trip to the Palace of Versailles, to visit our friend Laurent Hissier, a talented artisan who works there painting and gilding.
Laurent met us at the side gate, waved us in, and then produced an impressive key from his pocket that opened ALL the doors. We got to see all those room upstairs where the public is not generally allowed.    And then -((squeal!!)) - he took us to the pop-up atelier where they were working, situated in a few giant
unused rooms in one wing of the palace.
The crew has been restoring a lot of furniture, and building and painting supports with eye-popping faux marbre to display the pieces, for a huge show of silver gilt furniture.   Just the supports were so beautifully painted as to be works of art themselves!

To make it even more exciting, Pierre LeFumat, the master himself, was working in this atelier, creating an amazing faux campan finish when we arrived.
We also met the charming master gilder, Daniel Sievert, who  has been working at the palace since he was 14 years old.   As you can imagine, a gilder will never run out of work to do at Versailles.

This was hands-down the highlight of my trip.

Merci Laurent for the hospitality, and to all the crew who stopped to visit with us.

"When Versailles was Furnished in Silver" runs
19 November 2007 to 9 March 2008

20 October 2007

The Ornamentalist

Unteres Belvedere: Goldenes Zimmer.  Designed circa 1720 by architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt for Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736)  decorative artist: unknown
One of the reasons I travel is to be inspired by the work of others, and be reminded of what I can do, what I want to do, rather than just what I have to do; it renews my interest in my chosen career.
I am also making a photographic "ornament bank" for reference, both for myself and for the decorative painting world in general- it will wind up either as an on-line digital source or possibly a book.

At any rate, I need to see places like this once in a while and ask- why does no one ask me to make a room like this? because I can do it, just so you know. And what's more, I want to, and I know why it matters.

Vienna, 2007

13 October 2007

jennybird's open studio

this lovely october morning.... erling and i went to the open studio of jennybird alcantara.
we have both long admired her work and erling has been keen to buy a larger painting. we now are excited to be making room for the nearly eight foot high panel "seperated at birth" one of the 2005 burning man funhouse series.

jennybird also has a lot of smaller work as well as prints available, and she's well known for her wonderous dolls, many of which relate back to her paintings and which appeal to the crafty as well as the creepy side of me. i could not help it. violet came home with me.

support your local artists!
san francisco open studios runs through the end of october all over the city. you can visit jennybird and other sunset district artists, october 13 and 14, 2007.

11 October 2007

rare product endorsement: La GuerillaPod

I've just returned from three weeks in Europe, where I took an obscene number of pictures in dark places with my Nikon D70 . Lugging a tripod around while traveling is a pretty unattractive prospect, especially when the lightweight alternatives cost $500 and up. And you still need the ball head, and then the whole thing really isn't all that lightweight anymore.
Thankfully, before I left, a sales rep at Calumet Photo introduced me to the Gorillapod by Joby. I got the heavy duty model which screws right into the camera base, and can hold over 6 pounds of weight clamped onto the marble railing of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or the back of a pew chair in the Église Saint Germain des Prés, so I could hold up my 200 mm lens with no problem and no ball head.

La GuerillaPod in Trikonasana

In some places I visited photography is, shall we say, discouraged, so I appreciated being able to set up a shot without attracting a lot of attention to myself, and then renamed my new tool La GuerillaPod.

The only downside to this gadget is that it can "bounce" a little, so a remote control is a nice addition. (on my older camera, I had a cable release, but Nikon did not make one for the D70)

Other mini tripods, such as those offered by Giottos, are also quite useful, especially the super slick E.Pod , but these cannot take the weight of a telephoto lens.

I will be posting the results of my expedition soon.

02 October 2007

Cameras in Dark Churches

ceiling mural by Delacroix, Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris
photo using a Nikon p5000 set on the floor
During a recent visit to Saint-Sulpice, I watched dozens of tourists whip out their cameras and snap away, auto flashes going off like mortar fire over a dark trench.

Their pictures will likely look pretty bad: the flash cannot illuminate a ceiling 65 feet away, or it may leave a bright spot of glare in the middle of a mural. While it was believed at one time that thousands of flashes going off in a given day can damage an artwork, the reality is, it's distracting to others and just plain rude. Charging through a church flashing away is highly disrespectful to the space and to those who are there to worship.

At one point a girl asked me if I knew where the rose line is, to which I replied "it's not actually in this church", because it isn't. However, she and a gaggle of others found the famous gnomon without my help.
To these people I wish to say, please, put away your cameras and appreciate the place you are visiting for whatever reason. Buy a postcard, or look on the internet- someone else has more than likely done a much better job taking that picture before you.

For those of you who can show some respect and really care about that photo, here are some Dark Church photography tips:

  • do not take pictures during a church service- come back later when you won't be bothering anyone.
  • turn off the flash
  • if possible set the ISO to 640 or below - anti-vibration settings and high shutter speeds will make for a grainy picture.
  • set the camera timer (I use 3 seconds)
  • check again that the flash is OFF - sometimes changing any setting on the camera will put the flash back into auto mode.
  • place camera on the floor, pew, or other sturdy support (but not on an altar or anything important) and press the button, do not touch camera or move it until after the picture is taken.

Exciting surpise in Paris

If you are addicted to fine tea, as I am, you might begin to understand the thrill of stumbling upon the rather hip-looking Kusmi boutique at 75 Rue de Seine in Paris, and the massive colorful jars of the precious stuff in the back room.