Main Street Lights
Carnegie’s Main Street features new holiday decorations, lit for the first time on this Light-Up Night in Pittsburgh, which I couldn’t approach for all the extra traffic the previous evening.
The photo’s not so great, but it was a little difficult to convince one of Carnegie’s finest that I was neither involved in something illicit nor bowing to pray to the railroad crossing sign. Well, it was Saturday night.
And why would I take such risks to get a good image of Carnegie? Read about my current exhibit of photographs of Carnegie.
Any photographer will tell you that you usually don’t get the best shot standing upright and focusing the camera normally. Sometimes you need to climb a tree, run into the middle of traffic, ford a small stream or hang sideways off a bridge to get the shot you’ve got in mind.
Before digital I cruised the trails, woods and streets with up to four film cameras, each with a different lens and film. You can change all these settings and lenses now, but with film cameras you’ll ruin an unpredictable amount of film if you remove a lens or take out one roll before it’s done and replace it with another. Needless to say, all this camera gear was heavy, especially if I was also packing art materials.
A few years ago in autumn I was enchanted by the nodding heads of various grasses trailside, and seeing the big clear blue sky with big bright sun overhead decided to try to get various shots of the grasses with the sun and sky behind. I laid down next to the trail and took my shots, moving around as need be, then sitting up, my heavy backpack hindering me so that I had to push myself up from the ground.
A bicycler was watching, uncertain, and asked, “Do you need some help?” in a tone that indicated physical help wasn’t what he had in mind.
“No, I’m fine,” I said, “just getting the best shot I can, it’s a little difficult to get up with all this stuff.” I laughed and thanked him. He looked unconvinced, and kept his eye on me as he moved away.
More recently, I was photographing Jack-o-Lanterns along the trail at the Panhandle Trail Night Walk by lying flat on my stomach on the trail and setting my camera on a little three-legged thing that’s handy for photographing items close to the ground. I was careful not to do this when people were headed for me since, even with the bright moon, they’d never see me before they’d trip over me.
I heard, “Oh my God, what happened?!” “I don’t know, is that someone laying on the trail?” “I can hardly see!” The voices were rapidly approaching, and I really wanted to reassure them I was okay, just taking photos, but I also wanted to focus and get my shot before the candle in the Jack-o-Lantern went out. So I compromised by not moving anything but my mouth but saying cheerily, “I’m fine, just photographing the pumpkins!” They, too, seemed unconvinced, and perhaps a little upset that someone would try to frighten them that way, perhaps thinking I was going a little too far and really didn’t need to lie flat out on the trail in the dark to get the good photo.
So on Saturday I was walking home from a performance at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library Music Hall some time after 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. I always carry my little camera and often carry a small tripod for evening and night shots, but didn’t have it with me. I tried setting the camera on the street, but got a lot of the street in the bottom of the shot and still not a good angle of the lights.
I walked a little farther to the Main Street Bridge which has concrete railings along the sides and at a right angle at the end because railroad tracks cross right there, hence the railroad crossing sign, just a little reminder to pedestrians not to walk in front of a train. This hip-height concrete wall was just the right height to set my camera on and get the perfect angle down Main Street.
I turned on my little camera and set it on the wall, then knelt down behind it, clicking away with different exposures by focusing on different things in the image.
I heard a car coming up on the street, and realized that I was dressed in my long black wool dress coat, black walking boots (even with my dress) and a big long shawl wrapped all around my head and shoulders to keep warm in the night air. I either looked like a garbage bag leaning against the wall, or perhaps a terrorist in a burqua or a long black robe and headpiece lurking and pointing a gun at unsuspecting motorists or who knew what. I thought briefly of a few innocent people who had been arrested or even shot for appearing suspicious, decided one of the shots I’d taken had to be good, stood up quickly and turned a little holding my little camera where it could be clearly seen.
The officer rolled down the passenger window. “Everything okay here?” he politely asked.
Most of the officers know me at least to see my since I’m involved in many things around town, but I was so bundled up I might not even recognize myself.
“Just fine, officer,” I said brightly, trying unsuccessfully to remember his name, “just getting a shot of our holiday lights and the new decorations. I was using the wall as a tripod.”
Unconvinced again. “Okay, I just thought I’d check and see if you were…okay.”
“I’m fine, officer, thanks for your concern, and have a good night” I said as I turned my camera off and dropped it into my pocket.
Until the next adventure…read about my two photo exhibits at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, “Carnegie Photographed, 14 images of Carnegie” and “Of Harps and Fig Leaves, photographs of Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall”.