Saturday, May 31, 2008

Philadelphia Comic Convention

To use the elevator in the hotel, you need to insert your room key-card before choosing the floor. The guy in the elevator with me was stranded without his key. I used mine to get him to his floor. "You here for the convention?" he asked.

"What convention?" He was in his mid twenties and bit scruffy looking. I didn't know of any convention. They had a flower show and a car show already this year, so I knew I could rule them out.

"Wizard World, the comic book convention." I shook my head but said I might have to check it out. The next morning I got the run-down on the show. It ran for three days, 10-5, Friday to Sunday. Entrance was $28. That seemed a bit steep for someone who just wanted to wander around for an hour to see what it was like, but I decided to check it out. I arrived at 10:30 in the morning and didn't leave until it closed. I expected the place to be crawling with geeky guys in their late teens and early twenties and plenty of kids. I was quite wrong as there were almost no kids at all and the rest of the conference goers were as diverse as any crowd that size ... and there was quite a crowd. Thirty minutes after the show opened, the line ran half a block down the street. Inside, fortunately, it was not crowded so it was easy to move around. I expected to see lots of people in costume, but there only a few - including a small gathering at the entrance to the show.

Nightmare Armor Studios, out of Atlanta, creates helmets and complete costumes for those willing to lay out big bucks. They have get-ups from various games and Animi creations. The products are very slick and professional looking. They had a team of five people attired in Gears of War battle suits. While they didn't enter the costume competition, a guy who bought one of their creations did ... and won.
For many of the artists, this is their big opportunity to promote their work and make some significant sales. With professionally drawn comics going for as little as a dollar and custom drawings offered, created right on the spot, it was hard to resist providing financial support for these folks. But, as I explained time and again, I'm not a comic guy, I'm attending the convention simply to appreciate the art.

One of a group of producers half jokingly accused me of wanting to photograph the artwork so I don't have to pay for it. When I shook my head and explained that photographs of art look nothing like the original, he and his colleagues actually applauded. I know that I could have surreptitiously taken any number of photos of posters and graphics, and I'm sure that plenty of people had, but there's no satisfaction looking at a photo copy as compared to an original. I enjoyed seeing the artwork and left it at that. I was more than happy creating my own original work in photographing the people I met.

I spent the next six hours meeting the various artists and writers and learning about the comic trade. The number one concern of the comic creators was obscurity. They have the product, but very limited means for getting their work known. I was fascinated by the number of artists who were re-creating Marvel characters. I asked a sales guy from a different publishing house how it was that so many people were borrowing their images. He said that Marvel basically turned a blind eye to it. When I asked if the same technique would work to promote their own characters, he was adamant that they would not let other artists infringe on their work. "Even if it gets you more exposure?" He was concerned the images would be misused, as was the case with some of Marvel's characters. Better to have complete control over a obscure character than have marketing success by risking your character appearing in uncompromising positions, I guess. Meanwhile, Marvel is swimming in dough.

The highlight of the day was meeting Greg Hildebrandt. As I teen, I marveled over the fantasy images he and his brother Tim created. He's moved to a different type of fantasy art, retro style pin-ups. I asked how he did them. He comes up with an idea and does some rough sketches. Next, he gets models to pose and photographs them. He then arranges the photographs (particularly important if there is more than one person in the image) and creates the painting. You can see more photos here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring with the Du Ponts

Years ago, I got into a discussion over a magazine quiz which asked you to choose your favorite season. Without hesitation, I answered summer, as did most of the people there. A few said autumn for the changing colors and only one said spring because she likes gardening. I had a friend who once said "I can't wait for winter!" Sometimes I think there's something seriously wrong with skiers.
After thinking it over, I changed my answer to spring. It really is my favorite time of the year and it all has to do with the color green.

There's something unique about the shades of green that occur in April and May. They're fresh and vibrant. The greens of summer are dull and washed out by comparison. When the tree leaves begin to grow in April, it's an explosion of life in green. I learned about Longwood Gardens only a few weeks earlier. I'd never heard of them so a quick search told me that it was part of the du Pont estates. In 1906, Pierre du Pont, great grandson of the founder of Du Pont Chemicals bought a well known Quaker farm to save its trees from being cut for timber. He spent years as a "gentleman farmer" tending the arboretum, fixing the place up and expanding the gardens. Eventually, the property was opened to the public.

I'm never sure what to expect when visiting an estate, but I knew it would be an excellent place to capture some of the greens I've been seeing over the past several weeks. It was only an hour's drive away, so I got up early on a Saturday morning and drove down.

I arrived a half hour before opening; that gave me time to shoot some of the tulip blooms outside the entrance. Other than the proliferation of blossoms, the first thing I noticed was that the place was literally crawling with photographers and their gear. I discovered that a photography club arranged to meet that morning. There was every imaginable type of photographer in the group: from high-end full-frame camera on rails with boom strobes toting Indiana Jones types to a kid with a Polaroid camera!
The garden requires that photographers with tripods sign some sort of special release and only allow us to use them until noon. For some reason, they think that tripod detract from the enjoyment of the gardens. I, on the other hand, find that baby carriages detract from the enjoyment of the gardens. They were not amused by my suggestion that they ban such cumbersome and unsightly contraptions. I mean, after all, babies can't appreciate the gardens, so there's no need for carriages.

Stunning Italianate garden.

I so badly wanted to walk barefoot up these steps, but the whole area is closed off.
The house on the property is a modest affair compared to some of the mansions of the day. However, the atrium makes for a spectacular living room!

It somehow looks more appropriate as a black and white image.

The estate had a good size greenhouse, but du Pont expanded that to something just short of a palace. There are numerous atria with plants worthy of any city's public gardens.

Some of these "rooms" were used to host garden parties.
After the greenhouse, I explored the tulip garden. I'm sure horticulturalists would have a field day here. All the various varieties of tulips were organized by family and painstakingly labeled.

The property was running a special on the day I visited. For a few dollars more I was given a ticket to the nearby Du Pont family estate of Winterthur. Despite of the threat of rain, I decided to check it out. Henry Francis du Pont had studied horticulture and put his knowledge to good use on his father's estate. The home, although enormous, is lost in a forest of trees and gardens surrounding the estate.

The "Fairy Wood" is the most appealing part of the estate and the most whimsical forest garden I've ever encountered. Through the trees you can make out organic buildings that blend into the forest.
The structures in the wood were designed for the Du Pont children.
A garden path near the house.
I was more interested in the exterior of the estate, but I took one of the tours to get an idea as to what the place was like. Du Pont loved to collect antiques and had several theme rooms exquisitely decorated.
There are no "typical" rooms in the estate.