california, los angeles, Palos Verdes, Personal, Philosophy and Photography, Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh, South Bay

Let me show you the sound of a school in the summer

To me, schools in the summer are one third peaceful, one third harmless, and one third sad.

After all those years, the sight of a school in June still whispers “September” and I frown a little bit.

Even a school that has no relationship to my past, and that is six thousand miles away from where I grew up, such as the Malaga Cove school in Palos Verdes Estate.

I have a bit of a difficult relationship with schools. I have a PhD, I have a strong drive towards teaching. One of my favorite things over the past year was when school-buses got back in service and I saw kids going back to school. At the same time, I was the not-so-popular, high-achieving, often lonely and sometimes bullied kid from elementary school till halfway through high-school. Every time I see a school, old Tom and young Tom kind of clash: aspirations, ideals, and memories forming an interesting cocktail ranging over a curious mix of emotions.

But I think it’s nice to put all of this into photographs.

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california, Nature, Personal, Philosophy and Photography, Sensor Fresh

Orange County Blues

We went to Crystal Cove, OC this morning. It was somewhat overcast. As you know, I’m all about colors. When it’s overcast, and colors don’t shine as bright, then I play with black and white.

The light and the textures looked great in black and white as I was shooting. Once at home, I kept processing in black and white. It was lovely. Then I started trying out different colors, and I loved them too.

I loved how each processing gave our a different vibe. Each photograph played according to a different harmony.

The story each photograph tells is so unique that I cannot pick one and say “you are the one”.

I hope this gives a little insight into my editing processes. To me, editing is not different from cooking. It’s like preparing a salsa for the pasta. Different ingredients will call for different spices, and different spices will be suitable for different occasions.

Filters, you say? I don’t know. Call a rose by a different name, and it will smell just as nice. I don’t like the notion of filter because it’s often used in a diminutive way. Filters are usually a handful of one-size-fits-all presents you slap on an image.

Editing is more about the careful and loving fine-tuning of dozens of parameters, colors, shadows, textures, brilliances, emotions. I have my recipes, that are never twice the same, and that I like to think I improve with every photograph I produce.

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california, Personal, Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh

Rosy-Fingered Dawn

I got a new bike last week. I have a love-hate relationship with bicycles. I’ve bought bicycles all my life. Sometimes on a whim, sometimes after careful research. Some of my bikes were stolen. Some were traded. Some were left behind.

**Here begins the story of me and my bikes, if you do not care feel free to skip forward**

More than a decade ago, I went to a sporting goods store (Decathlon) in Turin, Italy. I needed to get a bike fixed. While I was there, I tried an entry-level road bike. It was bright red. You know, Ferrari red. You cannot let an Italian try a fast red bike and imagine he will react neutrally. I bought it. A few months and some bad falls later, I realized that drop bars do not offer the maneuverability you need to handle the busy and unevenly-paved roads of European cities. So I hated that bike and stored it at my parents home.

Fast forward, in 2015 I moved to Paris. After a few more unlucky attempts at purchasing a bike there, I went back to Italy, had the drop bars on my road bike replaced with flat bars, and that bike became my pride and joy, especially after Anne-Claire gifted me a beautiful Brooks saddle decorated with a Thunderbird design. Over three years, I rode several hundred miles around Paris with that bike. I also had a major fall once, after which I dragged myself to a pharmacy to get my bruises sanitized. The pharmacist, an elderly lady, prompted me to drop my trousers so I could put some disinfectant on my thigh. I asked her if there was a backroom where I could do that in case another client came in, but she said no and insisted that I just go ahead. Which I did. Ah, la France.

Fast forward again to 2018. We moved to California. My bicycle-purchase journey started once again, with a couple of failed attempts (much more costlier than in Europe because, on average, everything bike-related seems to be 30% to 50% more expensive in the US than in Europe).

Over the last couple of weeks, there I was, in the good company of at least half a million Americans: I wanted a new bike, one that would match my specs, my budget, that I could try, maybe have a little bit of a choice, and most of all I wanted it now. Anyone who tried purchasing a bike right now knows that everything is out of stock, with several months of backlogs, half a year-long wait lists, and most of what bike stores have are either high end models or entry level clunkers. And everything in small sizes.

But I lucked out! I went to Safety Cycle in Torrance and they had the kind of bike I wanted. I got myself a Specialized Sirrus X 4.0. I would have preferred a carbon frame, but I realized that on top of not being available, it was only two pounds lighter and almost a grand more expensive. I also wanted thinner tires, but those are easy to replace and I had also been toying with the idea of getting a mountain bike and now I cannot wait to get these gently-gripped tires on some easy trails such as Westridge and Sullivan, maybe all the way to Nike Station.

**If you skipped earlier, you can resume reading here**

The reason why I am really excited about this bike, on top of the ordinary perks of biking (less fuel and pollution on local trips, no parking hassle, workouts, mood), is that it biking really pairs well with photography. Just think of the Palos Verdes Peninsula: many amazing vistas from Palos Verdes Boulevard do not have easy or legal parking. With your bike, it’s a no-brainer. Pull over, shoot, ride.

I rode my bike to Malaga Cove two days ago, just to test its climbing capabilities with a heavy-set rider. 100% approved. These are the first two photos I took from a bike outing, so they are a little special to me.

Today it’s Friday. On Friday mornings, Anne-Claire and I always have breakfast at Eat at Joe’s. I think their breakfast burritos are just unmatched (but I also know it’s a matter of very personal taste so if you prefer Phanny’s we’re still cool). So today I decided I was going to bike there. It reduced the guilt, and prompted me to to take a little detour on my way home.

When rosy-fingered dawn appeared, I was at the Redondo Beach harbor.

I’ve often visited the beach in the very early morning, but never the harbor. By car, it’s a bit of a hassle. You have to park, pay, walk to what you want to see, walk back. As a biking detour, the scenery just gave itself to me.

There was a softness, a tranquillity that I had never seen there. I actually reminded me of my bike rides in Paris when I was going to teach in the early morning and businesses were not open yet, so once you left the most trafficked roads you would fine yourself surrounded by an unreal quiet.

The emptiness and the silence also inspired me to try some unexplored perspectives. It’s funny how, when you visit a familiar place at an unfamiliar time of the day, it feels like a new discovery.

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American West, Desert, Nature, Personal, Philosophy and Photography

Visions of the American West

I don’t know how I fell in love so deeply with the American West. A Latin expression comes to my mind: nomen omen. Romans believed one’s name could hint to the person’s destiny, and my parents did chose Wayne as my middle name. You could also say that the Romans got it upside down, and it’s one’s name that actually imprints their fate. No matter how you see it, the love of the West is inscribed in my name.

Fun fact, the etymology of Wayne is bound to the Westward movement and traces back to the wainwright, the wagon-builder (“wain” being the archaic word for the wagon, or the stagecoach).

Western movies have surely played a major role in my fondness of the West, and my western photography is imbued with a cinematic taste.

As I recently watched John Ford’s 1939 movie “Stagecoach”, I was elated to discover a sequence very similar to a photograph I shot in the monument valley, featuring the first butte one encounters upon leaving Kayenta, the gatekeeper to the Monument Valley.

Being born and raised in Italy, my Western imagery somewhat reflects the Old Continent’s fascination with the Old West. On the one hand, I partake of John Ford’s visions of grandeur, as I look to represent the awe-inspiring vistas reminiscent of National Geographic; on the other hand, I am influenced by Sergio Leone’s realism as I paint the Western deserts in all of their barren and blinding inhospitable beauty.

We sometimes describe the Western deserts as Martian, or Lunar landscapes. The difference, though, is that life abounds in the desert. One of the reasons why I find the desert so inspiring, in fact, is the relevance of life. Nothing lives by chance in the desert, every life form sings and celebrates its own relevance.

Living in Los Angeles, I am blessed with a unique access to the American West. On top of being, quite literally, the end of the trail, I can drive three hours and be in one of my favorite places in the world, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I can also drive little more than half a day and reach the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and the countless wonders of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

This is a blessing I am aware of every day. The West is my backyard. I can access it with such ease that I do not even need to think about it. Yet, the American West retains the wonder of a legendary past, certainly romanticized, but whose epic narration had begun even before the Census Bureau declared the closure of the Western frontier in 1890. Every so often, a zealous mind sets on to seek the “real” West, the reality of the Westward movement. Even before Hollywood, the Westward movement could hardly discern itself from its own self-narrative and ideology.

Then Hollywood came, and the rest is history: still, never before in history a given space-time was narrated and mythicized so close to its very unraveling, chronologically and geographically. John Wayne did meet Wyatt Earp, the deputy marshal of Tombstone, and when the latter died in 1929 in Los Angeles, western movie star Tom Mix was among the pallbearers.

If someone can take all of these elements apart, I tip my hat to them. I cannot. The nineteenth century, the Western movies on which Hollywood was born, Kerouac and McCarthy, my 2011 Silver Mustang and the sensors of my digital cameras, all of these things come together in my eyes and in my mind. I go out there, and look where the geological history and the histories of our people fold and bend like the Colorado river.

Countless towns in the South Western states claim to be “where the West still lives”. If you’re looking for me and I’m not in Los Angeles, I’m probably somewhere out there.

Happy trails!

Tom Wayne Bertolotti, W.S.P.*

You can see a selection of my Western photographs on the website Visions of the American West.

*W.S.P. stands for Western Standard Photographer and it is an acronym I molded on Chet Atkins’ C.G.P. (Country Guitar Picker)

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Creative, Personal, Philosophy and Photography, Sensor Fresh

Trapped in a country song

Howdy!

First, just so nobody worries, I’m not feeling particularly “trapped in a country song.” I’ve just been meaning to shoot something with my LEGOs and the instruments that are laying around our home (there’s a lot of them) and my macro tubes.

Seeing the little mini figure behind the six-strings reminded me of that country & western trope, when the singer is behind the bars because of something he did (usually for love). It also reminded me of that line in Dire Strait’s Romeo and Juliet that goes “All I do is kiss you / through the bars of a rhyme”. Hence the title.

I love LEGOs, I love the stories you can build with them. Maybe not everyone knows that, towards the end of my academic career, I wrote a book about philosophy and LEGO. Right now it’s available in Italian and in French, but I have not given up on finding the motivation to finish the English translation 😉

So yes, I do I have my minifig alter-ego, and Anne-Claire has one too!

The title of this one is “Resting on C”.

So… here’s a little freebie! If you like LEGOs and songs and fun photographs, this image is cropped so that you can use it as a screen saver for your phone!

Happy trails, y’all!

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Personal

Welcome to a blog (in 2021)

Ciao! and welcome to my blog!

A little about me: I’m a photographer in Redondo Beach, Los Angeles. I was born in Pavia, 20 miles south of Milan, Italy. My dad is an Italian graphic designer, my mom is French-American. I have a little accent when I speak though it is often quite hard to place. Although photography has always been my passion, it’s not always been my career. I have a PhD in philosophy and I was an academic for ten years. I wrote a pretty successful book on why LEGO is a platonic toy and then I felt I was done with academic constraints: I embraced photography as my new career and haven’t looked back since. According to my clients, my background gives me a peculiar eye and the ability to quickly turn their ideas into visual concepts.What I know for sure is that my personality and my studies have given me a strong passion for all things human: I love getting to know the uniqueness of each client and to meet the challenges brought by each and every project, be it a portrait, a commercial shoot or a print that someone will hang in their living room. I love burritos, yellow shoes and fancy shirts, and whenever I am not working you can probably find me and my girlfriend in our Mustang somewhere in the Southwest chasing the next sunset.

Why do I want to start a blog in 2021? Well, because I want to share a little more than social media would allow me to. I want to ramble a bit more, I want to tell funny stories, I want to share what’s behind my photos. Also, I want to give you tips, explain how I do what I do, and most of all, I want to find a better place to spend some words about the amazing people I get to meet in my work.: the people who are on my side of the lens, and those other side of the lens.Why do I want to start a blog in 2021? Well, because I want to share a little more than social media would allow me to. I want to ramble a bit more, I want to tell funny stories, I want to share what’s behind my photos.

No matter what they tell you, photography is not a solo journey. And that’s probably the very first reason why I am traveling down this road. So please, let this blog be an invitation, a ticket to ride with me and into my shots.

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