Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Some thoughts about Cleopatra’s Pumps


How time flies. It was only Friday that I announced my photography project, “Cleopatra’s Shoes, or the F Me Pump”, and already I’m reflecting on it, like I’ve learned something. Well, I’ve taken 350 photos or so and I’ve uploaded 137. I’ve got specific plans for more. In particular, I really want to get shots of Ms. Cleo at this miniature castle, if I can find it again (there are no signs or paths leading the way):


And of course I’d like to get some shots of her with her sisters at Wayquay’s joint:




But why, why more photos when you’ve already got so many?

Why not?

But, yes, the question’s a good one, and I’ve been pondering it. Basically, I’m playing, I’m exploring.

* * * * *

When I first spotted the shoe two weeks ago or so I figured I’d get half a dozen to a dozen good shots and that would be it–one or two on the window sill, a couple in the stair well, and some outside against the New York skyline. Here’s the first shot I took:


That’s a window in my apartment. I’ve taken a number of shots of things and stuff on that sill, or just shots out the window. But it’s not my usual style.

I’m primarily, perhaps even fundamentally, a street photographer. I walk around with a camera and shoot what’s there. I have to make do with things and people as they are and, above all, I have to deal with the light as it is. Shooting things on a window sill in my apartment is different. I’m in a closed environment, one that I can control to some extent. That is to say, it’s a step in the direction of studio photography.

Studio photographers work in an controlled environment. They have special lights and reflectors to control the light. Depending on the type of subject, they may have stands for objects being photographed or even a room constructed with a floor that curves to the ceiling so that there is no visible joint between floor and ceiling, thus allowing the subject to appear as if all alone in the world. Some studio photographers specialize in portraits, maybe children and infants; others shoot fashion and so must work with models; and some do catalog work, shooting objects that are going to appear in catalogues. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are photographers who specialize in shoes.

That’s not me. But the moment I put that shoe on my window sill I’ve taken a move in that direction. A couple shots after that first one:


See, there I’ve closed the blind. Why? To control the light of course. And I’ve posed the shoe with some objects. Why those objects? Mostly because I had them ready at hand. From left to right, a bottle of valve oil – for my trumpet(s), a trumpet mouthpiece, the shoe, and a Harmon mute, again for my trumpet(s).

But now that the shoe is framed by other objects the question arises: What does it mean? Are they just objects, just visual and tactile forms? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that shoe, it’s a so-called F me pump, right? It’s a well known type of shoe, with connotations. How do those objects engage those connotations?

A few shots after that:


What do we have now? Things are getting interesting, no?

A week later:

The other side of the shoe, same Harmon mute, different mouthpiece (gold plated), and a bit of graffiti art in the background. What about this?

Same side of the shoe as previous, same piece of art, but another prop, a cap with the letters “GVJC” (Green Villain Jersey City). And look at the light on the right side. I probably didn’t even notice that when taking the shot, but it’s interesting, no? You don’t know what’s in a shot until you get it out of the camera.

* * * * *

Let’s take it to a stair well in my building. For several reasons. For one thing, they’ve got white walls. Like this:


A studio photographer could control the light so there are no shadows, and could even eliminate that joint between the wall and surface the shoe is on. 

Maybe we want a rougher wall, and a different prop:


If the platform pump is Cleopatra, is the dirty Nike Blazer Mark Antony? Does it matter? Why or why not? 

And this?


Here’s another reason I took it to the stairwell:


Yes, the red, all that red. But also the brass, and the white background. And the mechanism. Remember, the shoe is an F me pump. Now it’s resting on a valve, and a big valve at that.

Where’re we going with this, anyhow?

* * * * *

Let’s get back to those shadows, let’s make them more prominent.



We’re in a different world now, aren’t we. A more austere world. let’s go gray-scale:


And this:


Are you still thinking Cleopatra Sex in the City? 

Let’s go domestic, let’s visit my friend Peter in Maplewood:


Let’s put it on the dinner table. This one’s set for a large Thanksgiving meal:


We can end with this:


* * * * *

And we haven’t even gone outside. That’ll have to wait for another day.

I wonder what Jumper and Kong think of our little shoe story.



  1. Who knows, Jim. Maybe it's a magic pump. Maybe it talks to the moon at night.

  2. Yes, quite different than street photography, but I am sure you have great fun. The Cleopatras pump is a good shoe for this kind of project. Keep up producing more captivating images. :-)