Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Awe of the Oculus

Jutting into the blue sky and reflected into the wavy blue glass of the modern skyscrapers surrounding it shines the brilliant white spine of the Oculus.  Somehow, the structure manages to appear part T-Rex, part whale, part dove, and all sci-fi, while being truly magnificent.  It isn't the set for a new Transformers movie though - it's the new transit hub at the World Trade Center designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava for the bargain price of $3.7 billion (that's right, billion, with a "b").

The Oculus under construction.
Source: New York Times
Although the area around the Oculus is still under construction, the Oculus officially opened in early March 2016.  Eventually, the Oculus will function as part of a massive transit hub that connects One World Trade Center to the PATH trains (to New Jersey). lower Manhattan subway lines, and the new MTA station at Fulton Street.  For now, it's an Instagrammer's paradise (you have to admit though that some of these shots are really, really cool).  After seeing a friend's post of the structure, I decided to go downtown and see what the big deal was.  My verdict: it might have cost a pretty penny (or $3.7 billion dollars' worth of pretty pennies), but the Oculus is a damn cool piece of architecture.  Here are some of my shots from my first trip - I love the black and white contrasts within the structure.

Reflections of the Oculus in the Millennium Hotel across the street.

You can see Freedom Tower through the Oculus' retractable skylight.

Buildings surrounding the Oculus.

Entering the Oculus.

The ceiling above the MTA entrance.
The shadows look like a whale's fluke moving through the water.

My favorite shot.  In the West Concourse.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fresh Water & Fireworks

For the Fourth of July weekend this year, I returned to the land of the greatest of lakes.  Although I've traveled to a lot of cool places, there really is not anything that can compare to a day on a clean, sandy Lake Michigan beach.

Spending time on the water kayaking was relaxing as always.  The water was so still and clear that I was able to see the shattered wooden remnants of an old boat wreck several hundred yards off the shoreline (no pictures because I thought I might drop my phone in the water).  However, in Michigan there is always a catch - water that still and clear is usually c-o-l-d and the water temperature was about 52 degrees Fahrenheit (about 11 degrees Celsius).  I dove under anyway but popped out pretty quickly and decided that in-water activity was best in the kayak.

As the day ended, I tried my hand at another Lake Michigan sunset time lapse.  I've got to be more patient and not move the camera halfway through the shot, but otherwise it definitely turned out better than my first attempt last autumn.  It would be great to luck out with a clear sky and try again sometime.

Once the sun dipped behind the haze, I headed back to the city just in time to catch some fireworks with friends.  The show started just as I was finished passing through buildings along the way to our spot.  The echos between the buildings on the empty street were so intense it felt like the explosions were happening right next to us.

I still had my camera and tripod with me so I experimented with shooting fireworks for the first time.  I read this post from DIYPhotography on the way from the lake, but this post and this post are also helpful.  As always, National Geographic has amazing photos and tips as well.  I used Manual Focus, shutter speed of 6 seconds for the fireworks show (13-15 seconds for sparklers in the woods), and an aperture of about F8 (I think).  For a first attempt, I was pleased with the shots.

I also played around with some shots with longer exposures in the woods at night with some sparklers.  The designs also turned out pretty cool, and I'm looking forward to playing around more with these types of shots.  All in all, a wonderful relaxing day.  I hope you enjoyed the holiday too!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inti Raymi 2015: The Andean Sun Comes to D.C.

While working in Ecuador, one of my most memorable trips with coworkers was to visit Cotacachi and Cuicocha, a couple hours north of Quito in the province of Ibarra.  The area is beautiful, and our trip was made especially memorable because we happened to arrive in the town during Inti Raymi - the Inca festival of the sun.  

Lago Cuicocha, Ibarra, Ecuador, 2013
Inti Raymi is a celebration of the winter solstice throughout many Andean communities across Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador (remember, it's the Southern Hemisphere so their winter solstice is the northern's summer solstice).  Taking place on the shortest day of the year, the festival is a celebration of the sun, longer days, planting, and the harvest to follow.  Although the festival itself is widely celebrated, each community has its own unique expression.

Inti Raymi Dancers, Cotacachi, Ecuador, 2013
On the day that we arrived, the festival was celebrated with groups of men in sheepskin chaps, tall hats, and metal whips whistling and dancing in circles, weaving their way through the town (with riot police on standby in case any dancer became overzealous).  The trip was a lot of fun, even with the gambles that come from eating street food and hitch hiking nighttime buses back to Quito.  

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian hosted its own version of Inti Raymi this year.  You can see Smithsonian's pictures from the event here.  The festivities began with an opening ritual for the fertility of Pachamama (mother earth) in the tradition of the town of Macha, in the northern Bolivian province of Potosí.  The festival incorporates both pre-Columbian and Christian elements.  

Tinku Pachamama Ritual
Then the dances began!  It's hard to capture here how amazing these dancers were.  They performed three performances with only a half hour break between each, but never lost any energy.  The beat pulsed through the museum with each unfaltering step.  

Bolivian Dancer
The first set of dances were the zapateados, dances that showcase the performers' footwork and focus on rhythm.  The next set of dances were the Huaylas, a dance from the highlands in which the dancers imitate the movements they perform in the fields while sowing potatoes.  

Huaylas Highland Dance
My favorite dance was the Tinku, variations of which are performed in parades.  This dance was the most energetic, with the dancers spinning and jumping, keeping pace with a quick rhythm.  The skill of the individual dancers, and the dancers as a whole, unparalleled with this dance.

Tinku Troupe Dance
The audience even got involved too!

The dancing, music, and colors were beautiful.  The festival as celebrated in D.C. had more Bolivian and Peruvian influences, but it was really cool to see how a festival with similar roots was celebrated by these communities in the United States as compared to the festival I observed in a small Ecuadorian town.  

I thanked one of the Bolivian dancers after the show for sharing her performance, and her emotional reply left an impression with me: "I have lived in this country for 28 years and have never felt more Bolivian than I do today.  To perform in the Inti Raymi festival, in the nation's capital, here in this museum is a tremendous honor for me."

Dancer with Andean Indigenous Movement flag

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