Monday, April 10, 2017

I Took a Walk Down by the Lake

Yesterday, I went out hunting bluebonnets. Now, for those of you not from Texas, allow me to explain. Each year, if we're lucky, and by luck here I actually mean if the Gods, nature, the stars, the drought conditions and the cold fronts that move along the northern hemisphere actually all cooperate, Texas gets blanketed in a bouquet of wildflowers in the springtime. These wildflowers are blossoms you might have heard about, things like primrose, black-eyed Susies and the like but, in this neck of the woods, the king, the absolute heavyweight champion of the wildflower season, the Muhammad Ali of dandelions and the like is a beast we call the "Texas bluebonnet." Yes, you read that correctly. There is actually a species of plant named the "Texas bluebonnet." Note: they put the word Texas right in the name! Yes, it really is that popular around these parts. Bluebonnets are all but a religion around here I can assure you.

So, these wildly popular bluebonnets usually grow in places along the highways and sometimes in fields, in different settings you might expect to see them; places like by the post office or growing in the fields near the elementary school. Parks are a popular place for these guys too, in part because, come every April our official outdoor pastime becomes photographing things sitting in fields of bluebonnets. Nary a Texas toddler has gone a spring season without getting plunked down and photographed sitting in a field of bluebonnets, I tell you. Most dogs have sat in there as well. It's just what we do come April. I should also point out that bluebonnet season also marks the height of rattlesnake mating season. Yeah, we Texans are tough like that but, come every spring, we venture out into the great unknown, plunk our kids and our dogs down, rattlers be damned, and take some snaps. Woo hoo!

A couple of years ago, it was an amazing year for the bluebonnets. When I say amazing I mean there were actually a million bluebonnets blooming in Bastrop State Park. I am not making up that number. A million freaking bluebonnets! It was more than a field, it was like a way of life. Once in a lifetime showcase of springtime color, that was, I swear I will never forget it. Trouble is, now I've gotten a bit, shall we say, spoiled, and so now anything less than this spectacle leaves me wanting more. It's a curse, I tell you, a curse. So, this year, not to miss the season entirely, I decided to venture out and do a wee bit of late season hunting, just so I don't miss the bluebonnets entirely. Now, I know it isn't as good a year as what we've recently had, no, but I thought, it was a nice day and, heck, I'd much rather hunt bluebonnets than do my taxes, so out I went into the wild blue (excuse the pun) yonder on the hunt.

I researched some rumored bluebonnet locations on my local Internet (I did say this was "just like a religion" yes?) and found Brushy Creek Park was rumored to have a field or two of flowers. Since this park also has a lake and a bocce court (I swear I'm not making this up) I thought, why not? So, I packed the camera and headed over to the park on the lake to try and find some bluebonnets.

Now, what I did find might surprise you. At first, there were a few bluebonnets. I found a rather small-ish clump growing beneath a tree, which I actually rather liked, since it cut the sunlight and allowed me to photograph in the shade, freeing me from the ugly shadows that I don't like in my flower photos. All well and good but this was about 10 bluebonnets in total, a far cry from the million in years past. I shot a little bit and then made my way down towards the lake, where they have the little boat dock like landing space. Here I found what amounted to be a small-ish field of bluebonnets. It was well past peak season, mind you, but I did, in fact, plunk my butt down in a field of bluebonnets. Bucket list item for 2017, check! I'm also alerting you to this fact so you realize I did in fact photograph a bluebonnet this year. Of course, you'd never know that from the images I wound up processing but, hey, I did shoot a bluebonnet, so help me, I really did.

After my butt had been firmly planted in the bluebonnet field, I started making my way back to the car. I spotted a rock, which had some nice colors in it, so I did a close up abstract. Then I noticed the path was rather cool, but a bit boring, so I decided to play a bit and try to jazz up the paths through the trees. These are the paths that snake back to the parking lot. I started playing with some motion blue and movement. It was a windy day and so perhaps this was my inspiration here but I felt I had to try and do something. Then, I got distracted by this red leaf sticking out from a tree, it was a young leaf and the light was hitting it quite right. I did manage to go out near sunset so the light was starting to get a bit interesting, although it was still a bit bright for the bluebonnets to my taste. As I followed the winding path back to my car, I got more and more experimental, playing with the camera, playing with abstraction, looking for light poking through the trees and making the trees dance in the wind. That's what you see here. This image was taken on the walk back to the car, with a shaft of late afternoon light shining through the trees.

Now, I got a bluebonnet photo. I also took a few shots of the path and you can sort of follow along visually, if you were to check out my lightbox. You could actually trace my descent into madness, as I like to call it or perhaps a more polite way of putting that would be my foray into abstraction. I got more and more abstract as I went along my path back to the car. At the risk of being kicked out of Texas over the entire religion business, honestly, I must confess. I feel the more abstract work is far more interesting than any bluebonnet images I might have taken. Even if that field had a million flowers in it, why, heck, I'll admit it. I actually prefer this kind of stuff. Maybe I had to go hunting for the bluebonnets to find what it is I really want, but there you have it. Abstraction was the end result.

But, technically speaking, I did photograph a bluebonnet this spring. I won't tell if you won't.

Until next time...

PS This image taken with the Canon 5dS and the 100 macro lens in Brushy Creek Park, Texas.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Art of Impermanence

Maybe because I've come down with a case of spring fever or perhaps because I have several friends venturing to Japan for spring photographic jaunts, either way recent thoughts have turned to cherry blossoms. Yes, my friends, it's that time of year again. I do believe the cherry blossoms are just about going to start blooming in Japan (if they have not already) and, sadly, the experts advise us that the Washington DC blossoms are quite frail this year, possibly creating a shorter season but making an appearance now as well. This late winter snap has been especially cruel in Washington DC, taking its toll on the stateside blossoms. Perhaps even nature itself cannot stomach the ugliness of politics in my nation's capital. Nevertheless, spring is dawning and it's time for the blossoms to come forth yet again even if only for an abbreviated season.

Cherry blossoms are not restricted to Japan and Washington DC, of course. Actually, I have fond memories of a cherry tree in my backyard. As a child growing up, I took for granted, even disregarded the bright pink blossoms selectively appearing each springtime. Our cherry tree was actually a variety akin to a sort of a crab apple-the fruit was all but inedible, but this did not stop the array of pink blossoms dusting the yard each spring, as if to remind us cherry trees do more than just produce fruit. I believe too that I had on more than one occasion scraped my knee climbing said tree. Like I said, I was a foolish child and thought the tree more a nuisance than a blessing. Oh what wisdom I have gained over the years, right?

While cherry blossoms are quite usual and yes, I have been obsessing over them recently, the metaphoric significance has not been lost on me as well. Cherry blossoms represent impermanence. The Japanese poetry and haiku is an endless source of inspiration too, heck you don't even need the pretty visuals to get inspired by this natural display. Some of the words and thoughts, writings and philosophizing make for beautiful inspiration for artists.

"Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers; but the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms." --Ikkyu

"The notion is called wabi-sabi life, like a cherry blossom, it is beautiful because of its impermanence, not in spite of it, more exquisite for the inevitability of loss." Peggy Orenstein

I hope you can enjoy the cherry blossoms this year in your own little way. Even if you don't live near the flowers, even if you never get to see the flowers, I sincerely hope you get out and photograph or maybe at least enjoy something as impermanent as a cherry blossoms. Life is short, flowers don't happen all of the time, the world can be a very ugly place. We should all collectively enjoy it while it splendid, no?

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon 5DS on my kitchen table. It's a cherry blossom tea cup with some white tea steeping so that I can clear my throat of my blasted allergies. Hey, I never said the blossoms were perfect now, did I? Achoo!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More Than Just a Tone Poet

Being a tone poet is wonderful but, as a photographer, you can also be a "poet poet." Using photography, we can listen to a song, bring words to life, include metaphors in our work. We can engage in a sort of "visual haiku" that plays with the viewer's sense of reality all the while presenting our unique perspective on a scene. Now, mind you, I'm not above being a tone poet. Heck, if I could manage it, I would be a tone poet each and every day. Tone poets make things look easy but, in some ways, it's easy to be a tone poet as well. I mean, all you have to do is present us the most perfect composition with the most perfect, subtle, shaded, contrasted, lighting and BAM! you've got it. (OK, so I did actually admit it wasn't *really* all that easy now, didn't I?)

Seriously though today I pose this question. Is it easier to be more of a pristine photographer, to be more "classical" in the true sense of the word? Is it easier to craft the most absolutely perfect shots down to the minutest nitpicking detail? Or would it actually be more difficult to forgo that and instead focus on the challenge of seeing something differently? Are the two really mutually exclusive? I wonder about that sometimes, but not too much, as I have never actually been blessed with the luck (or acquired the skill) to master the notion of tone poetry. If I'm being honest here, I must confess, the entire concept of the tone poet somewhat escapes me. It's just not my wheelhouse, no, rather I'm more aligned in the slightly off kilter, crazy, wacky, did you really just take a picture of THAT kind of camp. And, frankly, I'm not sure I would change that even if I could. I mean, I do admire the work of the tone poets but, if I'm being honest here, not sure I would really want to burden myself with being among that group even if presented the opportunity.

For those who formally study art, there are generally accepted elements in art and design. Roughly speaking they are things like: line, form or shape, tone, texture, perspective, and scale. Many people believe they are just not good at art and that's possibly true but probably more likely is the theory that most people excel at one or two of these elements but not all. There is a bell curve at work here which dictates we mostly fall into the big lump in the middle, as it were. That is to say, most of us are maybe good at line but, perspective and scale? Not so much. I've been convinced, either through study or just to lean on as an excuse, that my "tone" foo is a lot less than my "perspective and scale" foo. What can I say? I've grown to accept (be it true or not) that I just don't have all that much going on in the tone department. As an artist, I've grown to accept this and quietly move on. Sure, I'd love to be able to work with tone more and it is, in fact, a big part of what we do, but I also recognize my limitations. Creativity and perspective are my sweet spots, at least that's how I've always viewed myself as an artist.

No, I think it's safe to say I'll never be a tone poet along the line of a Michael Kenna or a Joyce Tenneson but that's alright. I can still be a "poet poet." I can still have fun with visual metaphors and haiku. I can still bring song lyrics to life visually. There is enough in my playground to keep me occupied and I've grown to accept that. My joy is quirk and I've grown to enjoy playing in that particular sandbox.

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon 5dMarkII and the walkabout lens in Santorini, a dreamy city view indeed. 


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

From Small Things

You've probably heard the adage, "from small things big things one day come..." It's as true in the art work as it is for this leaf. Not many out there start out with the intention of becoming a great artist, of making a masterpiece, of traveling the world, crafting images, becoming a visual storyteller. No, it usually starts small. You can hear echos of it if you read interviews with photographers, "I got my first camera when I was..." fill in the blank. "At first, I just started taking snapshots and over time I..." And so the story goes. Repeated more often than not, it's a tale told by countless men and women of the photographic genre and even in the broader sense the artistic world. To put it bluntly, many a great artist or photographer started out making mud pies and refrigerator art just like you and me.

If it's true that the giants who came before us started out small, then it also follows that they became giants somewhere along the way. Somewhere, in between the mud pies plus making art Mom might find suitable for the refrigerator door and the esteemed museum circuit or the hordes of Internet followers complete with piles of sales, why somewhere in-between this humble beginning and glorious triumph of artistic merit, something must have happened, no? I mean, you have to connect those dots somehow, right? Just think about what that connection might be for a moment.

Sure, there are many who have talent, yes, I'm not going to deny that. Talent plays a big role in what we do. But, for so many out there, talent is a mere starting point. It's a foundation upon which to build, not a finished end game. There are many talented artists who never get discovered, who give up, who run away and join the circus, who...well, you get the idea. If talent is only a jumping off point then what might be the real thing going on here? I think a large part of what we do and who we are, in many ways our core success boils down to tenacity. The ability to try and to fail and to try again and to fail again and to try harder and to fail harder and to try and finally succeed is also echoed in many of those artist interviews. It happens over and over and I've seen it time and time again. The people who just don't quit wind up getting the prize. Tenacity is one of the most underrated qualities in the art world. Everybody always thinks they can wake up tomorrow, paint some great masterpiece, finally be discovered, and that this formula for success is repeated over and over again. More often than not, it's not the case. The harder you work, the more you do, the more you create, the more you devote to your craft, the better you get. As you get better, so too it follows, success seems to come out of hiding. It's a path, a journey not a destination and one only you can tread to your own personal finish line.

In some ways, we're all starting out. We're all, each and every one of us, are getting better, carving out our artistic vision as we work. We are continually improving, even if it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes, you have to step back to move forward. It's all a journey. Art is a path. No, I would reckon there are no small things in art. There are simply buds that have yet to blossom. The little boy or girl making art for Mom to put on the 'fridge door? Why, it's just he or she is a bit closer to the beginning of his journey, that's all. "From small things big things [indeed do] one day come."

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon over at the water gardens with a 100mm macro lens. Spring is on the way, as it's starting to bud in my neck of the woods. I hope you're seeing it too. Saw my first bluebonnet today. Woo hoo! 

Monday, March 06, 2017

A Personal Note/Barking up the Minimalist Tree

On a personal note, I have to report that I've gone barking mad. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain.

For starters, on Friday I had to get my car serviced. OK, this is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing unusual here, right? So far, so good. I had an appointment at 7 am, the way I always like to do, get it done early in the morning and all, so I packed up my belongings, insurance cards, and the like, and headed over to my local car dealer, due for my next round of state inspections. With my car being 15 years old, this is always a gamble so I was sitting there watching the morning news, waiting, wishing, hoping, and praying I was going to pass the great state inspection lottery once again this year. Come on, street legal! As luck would have it, I was far from a winner this time. The serviceman happily notified me that I needed new brakes, a new front end alignment and there was an issue with my battery, actually the electrical system in my car. Now, I probably could have guessed that last bit because I had been having lots of issues with odd things in the car, things like the door locks would suddenly stop working and the like. At one point, I went to change the radio dial and I noticed that the radio had in fact gotten hot. When I say, "hot," here I mean like actually hot to the touch. OK, so we have electrical issues going on, new brakes, new alignment and a bunch of other car repair woes. Oh joy! They told me it would take about two to three hours so I decided to chalk it up to my cheapness and wait.

As I was sitting there in the repair room, aka the lonely hearts club location for all things automotive, I decided I would pop on over to the dealership and check out the new cars. I had been thinking about starting to look for a new one because, yeah, the current beast was in fact fifteen years old, more than 100000 miles on it, new brakes, electrical system issues, and probably more hidden than I cared to find at this point. I would up test driving an Acura RDX, which is a small-ish SUV. It's a five passenger SUV that actually has some cargo space and is quite comfortable. I wound up going for a test drive and liking the thing enough to actually pull the trigger. Yes, you read that right. On Friday, unexpectedly, I managed to purchase a new car. It's the one you see pictured here in case you were wondering. This is the front of it anyway.

But this is not all of the craziness, no. I took the car home and decided that I needed more room in the garage so I started cleaning that out. This weekend, I actually spent a bit of time tidying up out there, so that I would have room for the new car. Also, instead of transferring all of the "junk in the trunk" from the old car to the new, I stuffed it all into one bag and brought it into the house. Today, just now in fact, I went through it and tossed out anything I absolutely don't need. You read this right. I'm getting rid of crap that I don't need. It's not just getting rid of stuff, no, I've gone barking mad and have become somewhat overwhelmed with the notion that I want to lead a more minimal lifestyle. I seriously want to just shed everything. Well, maybe not *everything* I mean, I still can make a case for socks and clean underpants but like almost everything else needs to go. Seriously, be gone you pesky STUFF! Out of my life! I can't help myself, I do believe I've started a purge of sorts.

A few days ago, maybe it was last week, a friend of mine told me about something called "40 bags in 40 days." This is a de-cluttering challenge corresponding with lent. It started on March 1 of this year and runs until April 15th. The idea behind it is pretty simple, you just pick an area to remove clutter and remove one bag a day of items until your 40 days is up. You can read more about it here: http://www.whitehouseblackshutters.com/40-bags-in-40-days/

I did say I was barking mad, yes? Lately though, I can't help but feel like if I were to truly do this, to sincerely downsize, declutter, rid myself of a lot of the crap I keep around, it would really help my photography. Now, I know you think I'm probably crazy, but I just want to not only work as a minimalist photographer but lately it seems like I sincerely want to lead a more minimalist lifestyle. I just don't want to accumulate stuff anymore. I want things simple and sparse and I want open room and just the bare minimal items that I actually need. I have started to seriously look around and question why I have so much junk and how can I rid myself of most of it.  

If you're trying to figure how this relates to photography, I've been thinking that, if I had fewer items, if things were easier to find, easier to care for, less cluttered, why it would free my brain up for the "heavier lifting" of my art and photography. I am honestly starting to think I would be more creative and I would be able to shoot with more passion if my brain were a bit tidied up and free from all of this crap, so I've gone a bit crazy trying to rid myself of it. Now, I don't know how this is going to end. I've got a few guesses. I might just stop when things get a bit tidier and go on with my life or I might just have some kind of success and seriously rid myself of the junk I feel I have been keeping. I am also starting to feel I really want to drop some pounds as well. I may even start exercising again. I am seriously looking around at anything and everything and questioning why it is in my life, do I really need it, and how can I best get rid of it so I can move on. Interesting times, I tell you, I live in interesting times.

Please wish me luck with this latest project, for I have no earthly clue how this is going to end. The car has been wonderful so far. A bit larger than I wanted but I'm determined to keep the junk out and let it live a newfangled clutter free existence. Wish me luck with that, no?

Until next time...


Friday, February 17, 2017

Llama Drama Ding Dong

Happy Llama Friday! No, this is not an official holiday, rather one I have just declared, for today the lonely life of the llama played an integral role in shaping my humor for the afternoon. Allow me to explain.

As you might recall, this past summer I had some work done on the house-renovations as it were. Part of that work was having the house painted. In an effort to spruce things up, one of the things I noticed was that my doormat was getting kind of, shall we say, ragged looking. After the painters were in I also noticed that they had splattered some white paint over my once dark doormat. It was kind of, shall we say, ruined. Shortly afterwards, once the renovations were done, Mom got a bit sick and so I have not been doing my usual shopping at the home stores and places like this. Not to worry as a doormat was not an imperative purchase, I just brushed it off and moved on, onward and upward to bigger and better things. As luck would have it, while I was browsing the Internets this past week, I happened upon a site that was selling, you guessed it, doormats. Now, they had one in particular that I liked so I thought, heck, why not right? I mean, after all, I do need a new one now, don't I? Yes, so I purchased a doormat online.

Now, the place I purchased said doormat from is actually somewhat reputable. They even have a brick and mortar store relatively close by, I just couldn't stand the traffic, crowds, and the like, so the online thing seemed like a really good idea at the time. It was a cute doormat too, kind of a turquoise-y/teal type color with a design of a llama on it. (You knew llamas had to factor into this somehow, didn't you?) All well and good. Said llama is now racing towards me at the speed of Internet delivery which, on the whole, really isn't all that fast but like bear with me here. It gets funny after this, I promise.

Seeing as the place is a reputable outfit and all, I got an email notification that my dear llama was on his way to me. Oh joy! Here comes my doormat. They shipped the package UPS and indicated that I might have to sign for it. I pondered this for a minute when it dawned on me that, yes, I was actually going to have to sign for a package which came in a box that I would subsequently unwrap and leave on the front porch unattended permanently. Isn't irony grand? If that were not bad enough, I got a notice today too that there are a band of package thieves in my area, going around ripping packages off people's front porches and the like. Package thieves? In my neighborhood? Why, my poor utterly helpless llama. What's a girl to do?

So now I sit in waiting, hoping the package makes it through, wondering what I would do should I encounter the dreaded package kidnappers. I mean, imagine that surprise? They would stalk and steak out their prey, do the dastardly deed, run off with my treasured doormat, jaunting off thinking they got some high quality package, you know, something like a stereo component or maybe some computer gear or the like, only to go home and discover they successfully stole a doormat. Imagine the frustration on their part after that. Ha! Not to mention I started having visions of catching them in the act. I mean, what would I do? Run out of the house in my pink fluffy slippers yelling at the top of my lungs, "Stop! Put my llama down! You are not welcome here! You bastards!" I imagine that would go over oh so well with the neighbors who as it is now can barely stomach the odd artist on the block, let alone witness her turn completely bat poop crazy chasing an imaginary llama in her pajamas down the street into the cul-de-sac. Thin mint, anyone?

Now, I realize I'm probably being overly dramatic and that the llama is probably going to arrive just fine, heck, I possibly won't even have to sign for it and all will be well in the universe again. I mean, that could happen too, couldn't it? A girl can hope, yes? Here's hoping I wind up with more llama and less drama in my life because, frankly, we could all use a little more of that, couldn't we? Unless, of course, you're a llama in which case I apologize profoundly and offer up a welcoming spot comfy and tidy on my front porch.

I guess if there were to be a morale to this story, I'd have to confess to offering up the following advice. Don't buy a doormat online. It will make your head explode.

Until next time...

PS This one from the archives. Taken with the Canon Rebel XT and a 100mm lens I believe. Not really sure about the American dromedary either, as this could be a llama, an alpaca, or perhaps what is behind door number three (AKA your guess is as good as mine, probably better in fact.) I do recall a story behind this image though. I was on a trek down to Texas wine making country, traveling with a friend, Marlene. We had stopped along the way to checkout what we thought were horses. Turned out to be our little friend you see pictured here. As I kept inching closer and closer, Marlene hesitated saying, "You are so going to get spit on!" Turns out we never did find out if horses were nearby and I did manage to avoid the llama loogie so luck was on our side that day. Let's hope my luck with llamas holds at least until the doormat shows, right?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Deserving of Disdain?

This week, the World Press Photo organization announced their selection for photo of the year. The photo in question captured the assassination of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey by Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old off-duty police officer. The image was taken by photographer Burhan Ozbilici from Turkey using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera. Relevant EXIF data shared includes information about the focal length used to take the shot and other technical details. It was shot using a 58 mm lens at f 5.0, ISO 1600 with an exposure time of 1/256 a second. The image itself depicts Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş holding a gun in a somewhat animated gesture while the body of the ambassador lay at his feet. You can see the image at this link if you would like to view it on their website.

The selection of the image for Photo of the Year has stirred a bit of controversy. NPR labeled the image "explosive" while Stuart Franklin of The Guardian UK proclaimed, "This image of terror should not be photo of the year - I voted against it." (In the interest of full disclosure, The Guardian UK has previously published some of my work. Ancient history and all but I did think I should mention it if I'm trying to be honest and fair in my assessment of the award.) There have been several people in the photographic community discussing both the image and the award. Franklin brings up several valid points. The assassination was a planned terrorist attack and, by awarding the image such a prestigious honor, does this amplify the terrorist message? Is publishing such an image akin to publishing a terrorist beheading and can it help promote terrorism by rewarding such acts on an international stage?

My initial reaction to the image (I had seen it prior to the award recognition) was a sentiment echoed in Franklin's remarks as well. Franklin states that, "It’s the third time that coverage of an assassination has won this prize, the most famous being the killing of a Vietcong suspect, photographed by Eddie Adams in 1968. " Referring to the now iconic image "Saigon Execution" which depicts a Vietcong suspect being shot. My reaction to the Ozbilici image was initially, "sadly, every generation appears doomed to have its own Saigon Execution. Eddie Adams lives on in the spirit of these awards." Upon further reflection however, there are some notable differences between the images.

For starters, the Adams image was taken in Saigon in 1968. This was a long time ago and mores change over time. The Vietnam era in particular ushered in a gruesome experience for photographers as the war itself was quite brutal. An image considered socially acceptable during a long running brutal war might not be embraced with the same level of acceptance during peace time.

Apart from the time and place, another difference I noted was the emotional tone for each of the images in question. In the Adams image, nobody is celebrating. There are no smiles. The execution is carried out as a soldier would perform an execution (one might imagine.) The Ozbilici image depicts Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş in a somewhat celebratory pose, finger pointing in the air assuming a gesture of defiance. He is far from an anonymous soldier carrying out orders. He is the face of terror for a new generation. There are other notable differences between the images but these are several that jumped out at me.

Now, I'm not really qualified to say if Ozbilici deserves the award or not, as I am not a judge for such competitions. I can say that, from looking at the EXIF data, the image in question was shot at 1/256 of a second. In that moment, in that instant, in that brief flash of time, one life was ended as a terrorist celebrated his victory. If anything, this should give us all pause for consideration. The world can and indeed does change in 1/256 of a second. Ozbilici was there to capture it. It's neither his fault nor his celebration, merely his job to convey that change. Frankly, I think he did this brilliantly, although that was never in question. The larger question posed here is one that we as a society face. Do we want the moments that define us, that define our generation, our life and times, to be the Eddie Adams "Saigon Execution" or even the Ozbilici moments or should we all collectively look for something more? This is a question I hope the Ozbilici image will bring to light. Awards are awards, and we give them out sometimes to the most brutal of images but, honestly, is that who we have become? Is that really genuinely what we want to celebrate?

Until next time...

PS This image is a reflection captured with the Canon 5DS of sky in water. Taken with the walkabout lens, more from Washington.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Rejection Ritual/Balls in the Air

There's something about jugglers. I'm told it's not hard, what they do, no, neurosurgery and rocket science are hard but, juggling? Not hard, but there is a trick to it. And that trick? Why, it's to always have one ball in the air and work the momentum in your favor. If you look at jugglers, really watch them, you'll see they indeed do always seem to have one ball in the air at all times.

How is this related to photography or art in any way, you might ask. And, I'd be willing to tell you. The other day I got asked, "As an artist, what is your rejection ritual?" Perhaps one of the most daunting things is to learn to deal with rejection. Rejection is all around us, it comes at us in many shapes and sizes, so we have to learn to deal with it, right? Perhaps I'm better at this than most as well. Seriously, I don't like to toot my own horn but I've always been one to never let rejection get me down or get to me on any hard core deep philosophical level. What's my secret? Just like juggling, it's not hard, but there is a trick; a method to my madness if you will. The trick? That's easy. You guessed it, it's the same trick the jugglers use: always have one ball in the air. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain.

I always have opportunities out at sea. What does that mean? Easy. I never just send out one gallery packet or apply for one show or submit work to one call for entries. Nope, I never do. Rather, I send out multiples. I submit to two, three, heck even four things at a time. Send it all on out there, go ahead, why, I dare you. The more you send out, the more likely you are going to be rejected, right? That's great. Rejection is a part of what we do. But the secret? The secret is that the more work you send out, the more likely you are to get accepted as well. Think of the juggler. If he only has one ball and he threw it it would be gone and he would be left with nothing in his hands. The rhythm would be off, no momentum there. But now, give him three balls and he drops one? There's still the other two to throw around and he can learn to work with the momentum. Over time and with practice, he gets really good at juggling and learns to sense the momentum. He feels it coming when he's going to drop a ball and when one is going to fly. He just knows, because he always has one ball in the air and he's learned to work the momentum.

When you send work out as an artist once you get rejected you can focus on your other balls, as it were. "OK, so I didn't get into Gallery X but Gallery Y might still want my work. I haven't heard back from them yet." You also have a hand free so you can, just like the juggler, work that momentum. Send to work out now to Gallery Z and keep that momentum going. Don't stop and wallow in the Gallery X business, no, you've got more balls to throw out into the wind.

The "trick" if you want to call it that is to not take yourself too seriously (never take yourself too seriously,) have fun at it, and keep those balls flying around in the air. Build that momentum. Just like our happy juggler, one day you might find you can juggle chain saws and not just balls. Woo Hoo!

So, to boil it down, my rejection ritual is that I don't have one. I don't have one because, Ha! I never get rejected. Now, I might get a "no" or drop a ball once in a while but I've always got stuff out there, always got more stuff to send out there and there are always more opportunities ahead of me than behind me, so I don't wallow in what I might have missed. No, rather, I focus on what's coming into view next and try to keep that momentum going as best I can. That's my little secret.

I mean, I do sometimes drink a spot of whiskey but I don't cry in it, Instead, I toast my cup to the next, to the better opportunities that are surely coming my way. I hope you consider doing the same. Now, get your work out there. Go on, throw a ball out there and see where it lands, I dare you!

Until next time...

PS This one shot with the Canon 5DS on the Washington coast. Lovely sky, cloudy day, great day at the beach, it sure was.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

It's What's On the Inside that Counts

"What kind of camera do you shoot? Nikon or Canon?" Ah yes, that question we hear a lot. Frankly, it's one of my least favorites. If I'm being honest, and I mean brutally honest, I can always spot an uninspired photographer by the questions they ask and this one, to put it bluntly, is right at the top of the list.

Photography is about many things. How does that old poem go, "...of cabbages and kings?" Yeah, all of that plus a ham sandwich. Seriously. There's a lot to do when you are a photographer. You have places to go, people to meet, stories to tell. There are visions to be shared and joys to behold. Why on earth, given all of that, would you fuss about the brand name on your freaking camera? Now, I know a lot of photographers, heck, I am one myself, but I know an awful lot more, and they all effectively say the same thing. "It's just a camera, man." You pick a brand and stick with it (or maybe you don't but it doesn't matter.) Seriously, it just does not matter.

There was a song once. Paul Simon. "I got a Nikon camera...I love to take a photograph..." I swear that song did more for Nikon than any shiny brochure ad could ever do. Everybody's got that in their freaking head. It's like we collectively heard that and got brainwashed. Everybody wanted a Nikon camera after that. And, many people got them too. That's great. That's wonderful. I hope you're happy now. Heck, I have one too (in case you're wondering, I have both Nikon and Canon cameras. I shoot with Canon now but started down my photographic journey with an old trusted Nikon match-needle camera. Go look it up if you have to, I ain't telling.) For too many people the notion that you have to, why you just have to have a Nikon camera in order to be a "real" photographer (whatever that might mean) is embedded in their thick uninspired skulls. OK, like somebody please shoot me now! I can't stand it anymore.

If I sound snarky today, it's because I'm really tired of having this discussion. Beginner photographers talk about gear. That's great, gear is a part of what we do and all but, guess what? It's not the only part of what we do. If you want to get good, and, when I say "good" here, I really mean "better," you need to cast aside this foolish notion that gear matters. Seriously, it does not. Better photographers talk about work. Talk about work. Repeat after me: talk about work. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that, as you might imagine, the reason a lot of photographers talk about gear and not about work is because it's easier to talk about gear. Gear is something you can kick. I get that. It's harder to talk about work. It's more meaningful to talk about work. It's more demanding to talk about work. It's more absorbing to talk about work. Gasp! You might have to put your phone down and pay attention. Oh the horror! But, honestly, you need to learn to talk about work. Seriously. Once you become articulate about what you like and why you like it, you will be on a path, a great journey towards becoming a better photographer. I really cannot stress this enough. Articulate, people, articulate! Learn to speak, learn to listen, learn to see. The label on the camera? Why, that's just noise.

What do you get if you break down and decide to go the Paul Simon route? Why, once you break down and finally decide to buy that Nikon camera, you are not a photographer, no, you are a Nikon owner. Congratulations. Welcome to the club. It's boring because, why, nobody here can talk about anything but their damn cameras and who wants to talk about that? Now, if you want to be a photographer, you've got to learn how to have something to say. In order to do that, why, you've probably got to put that trusty Nikon camera to some serious good use. Shoot it man, just shoot it. Learn to talk about it, yes, but stop going on about your D this or your L that. Seriously, nobody gives a flying you-know-what about any of that.

I'm so over brand wars, it's not even funny. In case you could not tell, I'm just about done with any of the nonsense surrounding the entire "Canon vs. Nikon" or even the "mirrorless vs. DSLR." Heck, shoot with an iPhone, shoot with a freaking sketch pad and a sharpened pencil if you really want to, but, damn it, show me a composition that sings, that really freaking sings, and I'll show you a photographer. Tell me a story, make me see a place like I've not seen it before. Make me feel so alive it hurts. That, now *that* is photography. Anything else? Why, it's just some kind of brand envy that I can just as soon do without.

Doesn't matter what your camera says, it's on the inside that counts. And, yes, in case you're curious, when I say "inside" here, I'm not talking about the little box we carry around either. Dig deep, man, dig deep and show me what you got, otherwise you're just worshiping at the store of Paul Simon regrets and shallow regurgitations. Look inside and show us what you got. Be inspired so you can be inspiring. It's how we put more joy back into the world, right?

Until next time...

PS Oh yes, I'm going to say it because I have to. This one shot with the Canon 5DS in Dakota. Wonderful story about this place. The home was left almost intact, including the bedroom which you see here. Intact but decaying, kind of like the old Canon vs. Nikon debate itself, eh? Shot in Dakota with the walkabout lens.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Radar View/Travel Ideas for 2017

Since it's a new year and all, the time has come to start thinking about and planning some travel for 2017. Now, I know how you all love to hear about this. Gosh, I know how much I love to tell you all about it too. It's like some weird Japanese water torture, I know, but bear with me here. I do have to get this done and I do have to think aloud, least I end up in French Indochina without a camera. (Come to think of it, a trip to Vietnam would not be all that bad. I do have this hankering to visit Asia this time of year. LeSigh.) So, let's see...back to my radar.

I recently took a class with Art Wolfe and I want more. He's definitely on my radar for 2017. In fact, he has a short workshop to Astoria which is one of those places that has been on my radar for a while now. So we add Art Wolfe in Astoria and the Oregon coast on the 2017 radar. That' slated for April 20-23 in Astoria.

I'm also a huge fan of Eddie Soloway and have been itching to take a workshop with him. He's doing a few this year. One is April 28-30 in Austin. The next is June 1-4 in Big Sur, California, and the one I am seriously considering is July 31-August 4th on Madaline Island in Wisconsin. That last one gets me out of the hot Texas weather right in the summertime and shoots me up north in the balmy 70 degree Wisconsin summertime which sounds really very much like a brilliant idea. As far as the Austin or Big Sur, why I'm tempted to do one more with him as I've heard he's that good. We shall see.

Also on my radar, now please don't laugh, is the island of Molokai. Theresa Airey is doing a workshop there April 8-15 and this is very tempting. Molokai is very remote and so this one might be a bit tricky but, come on, who does not want to go to Molokai in their lifetime, right? So, again, chalk this up as a maybe as well.

There are a few in the fall I'm looking at, in case I can't front load this and take my travels in the spring. I know Cyg Harvey is doing one in Aspen in the fall and that would be just darling plus there are a few repeats of some I have taken before (I believe Tillman Crane is going to Dakota in the late summer/fall as well.) Decisions, decisions. All of this and I have barely started digging in the possibilities. Wish me luck making up my mind, right?

If you have any travel plans and you want to to tag along or consider tagging along, please let me know so I can mull over this mess some more before I finally pull the trigger and all. Wish us all luck in this regard, right? And, one last note...I know I said I was going to do a workshop review series, yes, yes, I know I owe you that at some point. Sometime soon, I promise. As soon as I choke that traveling gnome a bit, or at least just enough to get my travel for 2017 plotted out a bit better that is.

Until next time...

PS This one from the Baby Mark, 5D MK II, it was a left over from Seattle. I did mention we made it up to Deception Pass, didn't I? Yeah, that would be what it looks like from above.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Verve

Got some sad, well sad to me, news yesterday. After thirteen years, the Verve Gallery of photography in Santa Fe is closing its doors. I am seriously going to miss that place. It was a sort of home away from home for me, as I loved to stop in every time I was in Santa Fe to check out the work they were showcasing. It's where I first met Nevada Weir and got to speak with her about her work and it's the gallery in Santa Fe where Elizabeth Opalenik showcased her wonderful mordancage prints. Seriously going to miss this place. Lots of work there, lots of artists represented. They did a lot for photography, to advance the medium and they will be sorely missed.

Now, I'm not stupid (well, not entirely.) I know that galleries are having a hard go of it these days. In fact, for most photographers, a gallery is not even needed anymore. It's all become very "just make a website and put your stuff on social media" to sell. Frankly, I'm not sure the new model works 100% of the time. I mean, sure it does allow access to photographers around the globe and there is a lot more work and more varied work that can get seen, but there is a high, very high, signal to noise ratio. Frankly put, there's a lot of junk out there too and it's hard for a discerning buyer or art patron to separate the noise and the junk from the good stuff.

There's something to be said for the gallery experience too, as it forces the artists to sort of "raise the bar" in a way. Heck, I'll come right out and say it. If I'm shooting for what I think is going to be a gallery show, I'm going to put a lot more time, effort, and energy into my composition while in the field than it I'm just outside flapping around. Art sometimes just works that way. Having a finished product in mind makes us work harder and gives us a goal. Sadly, the goal of making it into Verve is no longer. I'm seriously going to miss that place.

There are other galleries in Santa Fe. Why, there's Monroe and also Photo Eye, plus the Adam Smith bunch, so it's not like Santa Fe is now completely void of photography galleries. But, there was something about Verve. It was sort of the contemporary home for photography there. It was the fine art hovel that we had all grown to love. It was just a place the filled a niche and sadly it's now gone.

Long live the spirit of Verve, where ever it might show up next.

Until next time...

PS This one an iPhone image, done with a grunge filter, that I had shot in Santa Fe outside of Verve. Heck, I'm even going to miss the sign. Oh, sad times indeed.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Long Day's Journey into Art

This is about the reasoning behind my newest work. It's long and detailed but I feel it's worth the read as it offers insights other artists might find helpful. Here goes.

I have always been artistically inclined. When I was a child, I played music and did painting on ceramics (painting things like beer steins.) I have always had a fascination with architecture but also have varied interests. I'm not the type of artist who fixates on one subject, rather I tend to dabble a bit, moving to whatever strikes my fancy the next.

When I moved to Austin, I wanted an excuse to get outside more so I took up photography. I kind of found it by accident. I liked it very much. I took to it. I was good at it or so I thought. I always had a day job and never really thought of photography as a career but I felt a strong pull, a very strong pull. I started doing photography, started doing shows, sold a few pieces here and there. Nothing earth shattering but I made progress, I think improving as I went along. As a photographer, I tend to approach my work more like a visual artist and less like a photographer, less like a "straight" photographer. Basically, I paint with my camera, favoring a more artistic approach. I always loved art and wanted to be a painter when I was younger, even dabbling in that at times. Photography allowed me to paint like that, to make compositions that I saw in my mind, only faster and more easily. It allowed me to get my ideas out quicker and bring them to life faster. I liked it, I've always liked that about it too.

At some point as an artist, I want my work to have more meaning. I want it to be seen, yes, I'd even maybe like to make more of a living off of it. Maybe someday, maybe just sell a few pieces. I get frustrated here as I find it difficult to sell a lot of work, though my work is appreciated. At least, I think it is. So, I started looking for ways to make my work more unique, to push it more, to push myself to do work that's more personal, more evolved, in the hopes I might end up making better work or work that I liked more than my earlier work. It's an evolution of sorts, a growing process, and I want to keep moving forward here, to constantly get better and push myself to do better work.

I tried encaustics. At first I was going to do a series of encaustics with photos melted into the wax. I started down that path. It was OK, but then working with encaustics made me realize I really just liked the paint, I didn't really care for the photography part of it. I wanted to paint with the wax and only paint with it. Encaustics are a great way to make boldly colored abstract pieces. I still love them for that, so I did them for a while. I started to have some success here too. At one point, I even had a gallery in New York City talking with me about showing my work there. (I turned it down because I felt I was not ready yet as a painter.)

The problem with abstract work is that, well, people tend to like really BIG abstract work. There just really isn't a market for 10 inch by 10 inch little mini abstract pieces. So, I had this idea of doing work a bit larger, say 18x24, and doing it with the encaustics around a theme. I actually did it. I started down the path of doing this series, called "Earthen/Dusk" which were abstract encaustic pieces inspired by the sunsets around Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a nice series of paintings and it started to come together but there were problems. For starters, recall I said people like big abstract work. Well, 18x24 inch is kind of big, but it's not that big. To really have success at this, why, I'd have to be able to go larger, like 4 ft by 4 ft or some such thing. Encaustics are done on wooden panels, not usually canvas, and I could barely keep up with storing in my house all of these panels. Then, what would happen if, say, somebody wanted a commission piece? How would I even paint some big, gigantic 9 foot masterpiece? The panels are heavy with all of the wax on them. Shipping these panels is hard and expensive too so how to do shows? Photography always allowed me to do shows. I've probably done like 200 gallery shows. Encaustics can be fragile too-the corners and such can get dinged up easily, plus they require a lot of careful packing and shipping. All things with which I did not want to deal. But, I always liked the way the paintings look, I still do. I love encaustics.

When I was doing encaustics, I realized I wanted to be able to draw better, to be a better painter, I felt it would help me, so I took a couple of drawing classes. I took classes in charcoal and pastels. I had seen pastels before but never really connected but I started doing pastels for a time as well. I like pastels but they too are fragile. You have to frame them behind glass which makes shipping them quite difficult. They can be messy but I liked them. I like the colors and the way they look, even if I don't feel quite like I've mastered them. They are also works on paper typically, so a bit easier to store in the home studio. You can stack them, unlike the wooden panels used for the paintings. I did some pastels for a while but I lost interest in these a bit too, probably because they are too difficult to ship. I hit a busy spell in my day job and decided it was too time consuming to do the pastels, the encaustics, and I missed photography. I decided I would go back into photography and just do that since it was something I could always do while I was working.

Over the years, I had somehow mastered the art of working a day job and doing photography on the side. The day job paid the bills and the photography was fun and rewarding, even if it meant I was basically working two jobs all of the time. I struggled but continued. At one point, I reached a point where I felt like I was at a breaking point. I had managed to convince myself I had to make a go of it as a photographer, to try to make a living at it, to drop the day job. I took steps down this path. I paid off debt to better free myself financially, upgraded my camera gear, started teaching photography classes a bit, I started to look, take a long hard look at the websites, I call them hovels sometimes, where I was showcasing my work. I tried to get into some different, more professional (or so I thought) websites, with the hope my work might sell a bit if placed in front of the right eyes. Some of my attempts panned out, some didn't. I don't feel bitter, perhaps I'm just a wee bit wiser now for this effort, so I can chalk this up to experience and sort of move on now.

As part of this exploration, I came to the realization that a lot of people don't buy photography as fine art. I've lamented this here before but, basically, if you go to the Grand Canyon and take a beautiful shot of the Grand Canyon, when many people see it, why they want to go to the Grand Canyon and take their own beautiful shot of it. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to sell your shot of the Grand Canyon. If that were not bad enough, the entire world has been photographed now. When I went to Santorini, for example, I thought I might come back with some nice shots of pretty Greece and, why, surely these would sell a few prints here or there, right? Well, the Internet is a small place and there are photographers who live in Santorini who shoot it each and every day, who have better shots than my week long excursion will afford me. I can't compete with that. So, what to do? I like photography, I don't want to give it up, but I need a plan B here.

There are a few things I've always wanted to try that I never got around to attempting as well. Cold wax painting, while similar to encaustics creates work that is easier to photograph. I'm also giving some serious thought to doing something like pastels or cold wax painting and layering this using Photoshop with photography. I'm still mulling over this, these new ideas, and may explore it some more at some point. Or not, as the case may be.

Last weekend I took a workshop with Art Wolfe and he discussed some of the same things I have talked about here. There were probably close to 200 photographers in the room there all trying to figure out how they too can become the next Art Wolfe. He talked about doing abstract work and this struck a chord with me. I am starting to feel the pull of doing more abstract photography since it might help overcome some of the burdens I have laid out here. It's easy to ship, I can blow it up larger on demand, it's not as fragile as an encaustic or a pastel, but it offers some of the same design elements as these type of pieces. Still thinking over this approach as well.

Now I'm left wondering if I should get an art coach but I don't think that would really help. I'm just left feeling I want to change things up, to maybe try to go down some new paths, cover new ground. I feel somewhat lost.

This weekend, I went over to the Water Gardens, home of my koi breeders, and had an absolutely wonderful time. I really enjoyed my day, as the weather was perfect and I feel I did even come home with some interesting shots, one of which you see here. I still have a nagging lost feeling. I want to do more but stuck in the mud. Please send help or, at least, you know, chocolate or something, right? I don't know if I need an art coach, a life coach, an art life coach or a giant bottle of whiskey to go with the chocolate. Still trying to figure that one out there, but I did like my water gardens visit and I enjoy the new work, the new direction for my work, so there's that, right?

I think this is a long process and possibly one for which I do not have many answers. Perhaps there are more unanswered questions than I can muster but this is the journey I'm currently taking with my art. I'm questioning where to go next, starting to think though some of the issues, to maybe solve some of the problems I face when doing this. I don't want to stop creating, no, I never want to do that but I do want to mix it up, to change it up a bit. Maybe some bold new direction is in order right about now, at least that's how I'm feeling. Wish me luck down this path of discovery as I am going to need it, right? All of that and yet I somehow feel my journey has only but begun.

Until next time...

PS This image taken at the water gardens. Some algae in the lake, shot with the Canon 5DS and a 100mm macro lens. Looks like a painting, smells like a lake. Enjoy the view, eh?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Wolfe at the Door

Went to an incredible event today with noted photographer Art Wolfe. He came to Austin to hold his shiny new Photography as Art Seminar and I have to admit it was such a joy getting to see his work and getting to meet him in person. If you're wondering, he's just as nice and gracious in person as he is on his TV show, although we did not, as far as I know, have any snow monkeys in the vicinity. Primates aside, the seminar was filled with interesting facts and presented a wonderful way for photographers to approach their work: diving into the abstract as well as finding inspiration from the art world in order to craft more personal work. I have to say I ate it up, loved every minute, and it's highly recommended if you are so-inclined. Really, if you are on the fence about this one, I'd encourage you to pull the trigger and go for it. It was worthwhile, entertaining, highly enjoyable and I came home with a lot of takeaways although now, in fairness, I do have more than my fair share of homework to do. Rats about that but, seriously, everything was top notch. He's going to be shooting Astoria and other points later on this year and I was so inspired I might have to see if I can slip away and get on board one of his workshops. Oh how I would love to shoot with him as he's a real artist beneath that snow monkey hunting exterior. (In case you're wondering, no, actually, no snow monkeys were harmed in the marking of Travels to the Edge. I'm kidding about that bit.)

The day started out very odd for me. It's really windy here today. When I say windy I mean like perhaps more windy than I have ever seen and it can get quite windy here. The event was held downtown at the Zach Theater area so I left early in the morning and blew in, quite literally, a bit early. In order to get downtown to Zach, I had to drive down Mopac, which is currently dug up and in sorry shape construction wise (We call it the Mopac-alypse.) As I was driving, one of the partitions that blocks off the construction almost blew into my car. Seriously. It was like one of those fence type things, held in place by two sandbags at the bottom. Two sandbags? And it still almost blew into me. I did say it was windy, yes? Phew! I had to swerve my car to avoid the blowing construction and I'm very happy there was little traffic sharing the road with me at that time. If that were not bad enough, I had to drive past the El Arroyo sign. It was so early in the morning, why, they were just putting up the letters on the sign and, yes, this time I did remember to actually look at the dang thing. Seriously, you read that correctly. They were just putting the letters up on the sign which means that, technically speaking, I was up before El Arroyo-o'clock. Dang. That's early. Now you'll have to check the sign online to see what eventually ended up getting posted (just like I have to.) I did, however, remember to actually look at it as I sped past, so, well, there's that, right? (It was just a garbled bunch of letters when I sped past, honest.)

The seminar itself had Art Wolfe presenting us inspiration from the art world and comparing it to photography. If you are familiar with my series "Painters Every Photographer Should Know," it's similar to that only much more interesting to hear Art Wolfe tell it and present his incredible work. He's been a professional photographer for over 40 years and was trained initially as a painter. It shows in his work and that was quite a joy to experience. He very sharing of what he knows and the techniques he uses so it was a real treat to see his work evolve and unfold before our very eyes, as he walked us through his process.

I won't go into the details of the seminar, other than to share a few funnies from it. At one point, I think somebody in the crowd asked him how he controlled models. He jokingly said something along the lines of "with handcuffs and duct tape and..." We had a laugh at that while the questions continued. Somebody else asked him about his workflow and he revealed that he shoots about 2000 images a day. He eyes every frame before the end of the day and he confided in us that he labels some as keepers (or "favorites" I think he called them) and then he "deletes the rest." There was a huge gasp coming from the crowd at this point and I was seriously looking for a fainting couch after he said this. I turned to the man sitting next to me and said, "he didn't shock us with the handcuff business but, man, tell us you delete RAW files and we're all gasping!" Yes, it's true. If you want to shock a room full of photographers, just tell them you delete RAW files. I recommend smelling salts and a comfy chair at that point.

I find talking photography gear the most boring aspect of any presentation (this is not just limited to Art Wolfe, mind you. I just don't find the gear bits to be all that interesting and, frankly, I can read the specs pages over at B&H photo if I really need to know) but I thought it a bit interesting that he pretty much shoots the same gear I do. He shoots a Canon 5DR (I have the 5DS) with a 24-70 macro lens on a tripod with a cable release. I am pretty close to him gear wise although obviously I still have a lot to learn in the making it art department. (I'm trying, really, I'm trying.) At the end of the seminar, he took lots of questions and posed for pictures, one of which you can see here. That's me in case you forgot what I look like, posing with Art Wolfe. On a personal note, I must admit that, as a young girl I had several posters in my room. There was Shawn Cassidy (you remember him, yes?) and a whale tail image by Art Wolfe himself, so it was quite incredible getting to have my picture taken with him. Never in my lifetime did I ever think, when I put that poster on my wall, that I would one day get to meet and share his work in such a personal setting.

A very worthy day filled with lots of information. Now, it's up to me to act upon this, which I can do by starting a new project and doing the "homework" of researching the artists and photographers presented. Hopefully, I'm up to the task, we shall see. In the meantime, if you get an opportunity to visit with Art Wolfe or even to check out his show on PBS (it's called Travels to the Edge) I highly recommend it.

Until next time...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Crystal Ball is Backordered

A while back I had read a Simon Bond article, "7 Tips for Doing Crystal Ball Refraction Photography." I think I had happened upon a link to the article from Light Stalking (lightstalking.com)and somehow managed to follow my way over to DigitalPhotographySchool.com to read the actual article. Simon Bond has a small series of these how to articles on crystal ball photography if you too are interested in going down that path, I might recommend them, that is to say, I might recommend them if I had an actual crystal ball. You see, the first article in the series was helpful enough, as it addressed, well, the actual acquisition of said ball o'crystal. It even had a lovely link to an actual crystal ball that you could purchase for crystal ball refraction photography on Amazon.com. Seriously. Like, who thinks of these things? Wonderful Simon Bond thought of everything so I, along with say 20 million other people happily clicked through, following the link to purchase said ball o'crystal. All well and good, as you can now imagine gobs of crystal ball wielding photographers basking in landscapes of the round all over the globe or at least the outer reaches of  DigitalPhotographySchool.com. I envisioned Amazon.com trucks everywhere, bogged down under the weight of an unusually large stream of crystal ball deliveries, almost hearing the cries of weighted down UPS drivers screaming out insults like, "here's your damn ball, you wanker!" under their breath while calmly asking us to, "please sign here." (There is a certain joy in the kingdom of the round, is there not? Well, maybe so long as you don't drive a truck for Amazon.com that is.)

You can probably imagine how this is going to end but I thought I might fill you in just for grins and giggles. I happily clicked on the link, plunking down the hard earned twenty seven bucks in order to secure my very own crystal ball, complete with wooden stand. (I've since learned that no crystal ball is in fact complete without said wooden stand. Who knew these things? No I, that's for sure, not I.) Now, at this point, one might think that I'm out basking in the glow of the round, running through fields of happy little dew drops, refracting everything until my cold black heart is content yet again or at least, you know, more round than it was yesterday. You might think that, yes, but you would be in fact wrong. No you see thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Simon Bond, DigitalPhotographySchool.com and Light Stalking, horror of horrors, the crystal ball (complete with wooden stand!) is now on back order. Yes, snowflakes, I hate to admit it but my wonderful purchase of a twenty seven dollar crystal ball complete with wooden stand as selected back on December 7th, 2016, has been put on none other than the dreadful back order. It hasn't just been put on back order, no, it's been back ordered about sixteen times since the middle of December. Today, in fact, it's pathetic tracking status reads "Arriving January 19-21" which sounds quite promising until you read the additional follow-on note that announces, "Preparing for shipment." It's gotten so bad and so frankly laughable that I'm actually starting to think they really don't make crystal balls (complete with wooden stand!) at all. No, I'm starting to think they are remnants of gypsies and days gone by, relegated to that old dust heap of silent movies and AM radio stations. Don't all modern day phychics use the Internet now anyway? I mean, like who actually uses a crystal ball nowadays besides like, say, a random bunch of refracting photographers? No, I've in fact started to believe in my very heart of hearts that this, why, it's not going to end well (not for me and probably not for the back ordered ball either come to think of it. The wooden stand might make out OK though. Here's hoping, right?)

My crystal ball is back ordered. Now, who didn't see that coming? Actually, come to think of it, how could I have seen that coming since, well, I don't yet have anything to gaze into to tell me all about it.

Oh the humanity! I wish I could say I'm having a ball but like I'm not, OK? (Nope. No balls in this joint!)

Until next time...

PS This image from Dakota, taken with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens, no crystal balls in sight, at least not as far as I could tell.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Show News/Looking at the Ocean

This is the shoreline of Lima, Peru, shot with the Canon 5DS and my walkabout lens. In other photography related news, I've currently got an image up at Austin's Corridor of Arts Gallery, located inside the Chase Bank Building at 700 Lavaca in downtown Austin.

The work is part of a show called "Member's Choice" which is images selected by the Texas Documentary Photography Group. Interesting thing about this show, we usually do shows more along the lines of themed exhibitions, you know, shows like the Stomp That Grape! where we explored wine making in Texas and the like. This show is different. It represents the photographers own selection. It was kind of interesting to be free from a theme and be able to cull from the archives to be included in a show such as this and I honestly think the open theme does a lot for making the show look more diverse.

Some details about the show. It's up now and it runs through February 26th. We are slated to have an opening reception on Thursday, January 24, from 4-6 pm with wine and cheese and the like so, if you're in the Austin area, feel free to stop on by and check out the work. I've got one piece in the show, it's a black and white image included in the lot. I've seen pictures of the show and it looks rather nice so I hope you get to check it out if you are so inclined. 

Until next time...


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lesson Learned from a Public Meltdown

Mariah Carey and Meryl Streep recently had public appearance that were, shall we say, very "public." One appearance tangled with equipment one with politics but they had something in common. They each had a very public vent of frustration culminating with a public response. 

For Mariah Carey, it was a New Year's Eve performance that caused all but a melt-down, to the point that people were joking about it. ("Did you hear they had to call out the Department of Homeland Security in New York on New Year's Eve? Mariah Carey dropped a bomb on Times Square.") While I haven't extensively studied exactly what happened, I believe it can be summed up by saying she ended up performing one song while the music was playing another. There was even talk of sabotage, as some in the Carey camp claimed she was setup to perform the wrong song.

I think the big takeaway for artists here is that we sometimes work with equipment and, yes, that equipment can sometimes be faulty. Accidents happen, mistakes are made, we are all human. Does anybody out there reading this really actually think that Mariah Carey cannot sing? Anybody? Bueller...Bueller? No, we all know she's one of the greatest singers of a generation and she's got a slew of hit records to back that up. She's written songs, she's recorded songs, she's a solid artist and you really can't take that away from her now, can you? OK, so her New Year's Eve performance was maybe not her best and things got messed up but does that make her any less of an artist? Heck, I'll go so far as to say I can only imagine what she must have felt after that performance. It must be the most frustrating thing in the world to have that happen to you. I honestly feel bad after watching what happened and I honestly feel that we owe it to her as an artist to remember her body of work. Maybe you've seen a good song that she's performed or one of her songs came on the radio and it reminded you of something nice or maybe she penned a catchy tune once that left you humming along. She's a talented artist, a great performer, and I intend to remember her that way. If nothing else, her New Year's Eve performance should serve as a reminder of how good her good performances were. To put it another way, she's made it this far without having that kind of faulty equipment hit her, shouldn't she get props for that? Personally, I choose to remember her good work and this incident might encourage me to download one of her songs in support of her so-called "meltdown."

For Meryl Streep, perhaps the most frustrating of all is the idea, real or perceived, that you cannot do what it is you do for political reasons. You may or may not agree with her political stance on issues but consider this: how many films or images are being crafted in North Korea? I've personally spoken to this before as well. As a photographer and an artist, I simply cannot do what it is I do without enjoying and exercising an aggregate of personal freedom.  Freedom is a prerequisite for art and, as an artist, she felt it her duty to speak out to defend her ability to exercise her craft. Some will say she alienated her audience, perhaps that is the case, but she felt it her right or perhaps her duty to speak out to what she viewed as an unacceptable condition. It was her award time allotment and she opted to speak as she saw fit, taking a stand against something she saw as unjust. As an artist, my takeaway here would be that I should be able to speak out if I really saw the need to say something. At times, society looks for artists to be leaders, trailblazers in their fields and, let's face it, our artistic platform offers us an opportunity for a bit of a public facade. We can lend that face to many causes and use our platform as a means to invoke change that we want to see in the world. Or, you know, we can make pretty pictures. As an artist, I feel it's a good thing the choice is ours to make.

I hope you have some interesting lessons from these recent public appearances. While I am not an artist of the caliber of a Mariah or a Meryl, I like to think that events such as these can help shape my view of the role artists play in society. And, yes, I still like to make some pretty pictures as well.

Until next time...

PS This is an abandoned school house in North Dakota shot with the Canon 5DS converted to black and white with the Nik silver efex filtering.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

2017 Photography Predictions

Ring...ring...."Hello, Psychic Friends Hotline, this is Carol speaking..." OK, so maybe I can't tell you if your dead grandmother really likes your new boyfriend or not but I do have some predictions for 2017 in terms of photography. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. We will see a rise in activism art. 2016 was an election year in the US and it was a particularly hard fought and bitter one. Regardless of which side you favored in the run up to the election, battle lines were drawn and discussions got heated. Although the actual voting is behind us now, the contests decided, and the time has come to move onto inauguration and the ushering in of a new government in the United States, I don't anticipate the discussions to subside. Look for the art world to respond to a President Trump as it sees fit, this might take the form of new social documentary photography or just a general lashing out as things unfold. Even if you don't live in the United States, I expect a new level of discourse to present itself in the image making universe. There are too many social issues coming to a boil, with groups like Black Lives Matter, immigration coming to the forefront, LBGQT rights and others. I expect the art world to respond to these times and the photography community will be on the front lines for some of these discussions. Watch for photography to have a voice as part of this new era of political discourse.

2. Two X moves to "real" cameras and grows wings. Year 2016 was probably the year of the double exposure. They were everywhere, with photographers shooting a lot of 2X work. If I didn't love it so much I'd be almost sick of it already, but I anticipate the trend to continue into 2017. In part, the trend was pushed by the ease of the 2X in the iPhone app land (with apps like Diana and such) but I anticipate 2017 will see photographers porting these techniques back to their "real" cameras, if that hasn't started already, not to mention more of it coming from the iPhone universe. I look for lots of double exposure style projects done in Photoshop shot with Canon/Nikon's in 2017. It's just bound to happen, as well as lot of double exposure work coming from the iPhone world.

3. iPhones/Camera phones will be taken more seriously. While I'm on the subject of iPhones and mobile related photography, I expect 2017 to see iPhone cameras be taken more seriously this year than ever before, in part due to new equipment but also due to a greater acceptance in the photography community. 2016 was a year we saw the iPhone 7 come out and lots of mobile phones are now sporting serious cameras, at least we've seen a jump in quality on the hardware side. While I still hear many photographers say "iPhone is just as good" and we've accepted that, at some point in the future, we'll probably all be shooting nothing but what's now considered mobile, there are still a lot of photographers shooting both the "real" camera as well as the mobile, hinting as a less than full acceptance. Let's face it, clients are reluctant to pay us gobs of money for an iPhone shot and some photographers are shy about presenting an iPhone only proposal to clients. I anticipate we'll move towards changing this in 2017. While I don't anticipate full acceptance (we'll never have that. Heck, I can point you to some people who have yet to accept film now comes in color format.) I expect a sort of "less shock" at seeing "real" photographers shooting mobile (or adding mobile into their kits.) 2016 saw its first Sports Illustrated cover shot with an iPhone, I expect 2017 will see more, much more, of these type of events, although it's getting harder and harder to tell when they happen, given the increased in quality on the mobile photography front.

4. Rise in "do good" photography-photography as philanthropy. As a new generation of rising stars achieve a certain photographic success (good blog traffic, Instagram following, Facebook sales, etc.) look for them to start giving back to their communities. Let's face it, many photographers, fall into one of several camps. We are either aging baby boomers, children of the 60's, basically the grown up "love child" or millennials who long for something more than just the same sort of material crap their parents shoveled. Both of these camps have something in common-a desire to do more with their cameras and to really make a difference in the world. We're already seeing philanthropy creep into the photographer's world in small bits. The Santa Fe Workshops have travel workshops designed for the powerful combination of photography and philanthropy and I would expect this trend to continue well into 2017. It's just a natural fit so I think we'll see a lot more of it. Look for more workshops centered around this and some larger projects that will allow photographers to shoot for good, in the philanthropic sense, come 2017.

5. Better equipment in iPhone/iPad land. Look for better equipment to come into the iPhone universe as acceptance increases. When I say better equipment, I'm not just talking cameras here. No, look for the entire workflow to improve both hardware and software wise in 2017. Expect announcements like better backup devices, better transfer mechanisms, printers more able to "speak iPhone" and the like, possibly even some things that are not on our radar right now. There are currently many startups and kickstarter campaigns designed to make the mobile experience better and I expect some of these will gain a more broad acceptance in 2017.

6. Varied equipment-our gear is all over the map! The end of 2016 saw the photography community using gear that varied from mirrorless to better DSLRs, to a rise in digital medium format cameras, and even better iPhone cameras. Phew! In the old days, the lines were pretty much drawn around hardware, with medium format being used by fashion and fine art, photojournalists using the silent 35mm and a lot of black and white film, etc. These days, it's anything goes in terms of equipment and we've blurred the lines between portrait, landscape, street, fine art, etc. Now we're seeing more things like "Instagram photographer" or "500px photographer" or "Facebook photographer." It's more about our output than our equipment and our marketing is less centered around our equipment as well. Technology has not slowed down and we're seeing a host of new gear married with a base of users completely unafraid to experiment. I expect this to continue in 2017.

7. Retro rules. Hinting at this before, baby boomers are retiring in record numbers and will continue to do so throughout 2017.  This new crop of retired boomers carries with them a desire to learn new things and occupy their post employment days. Photography is especially popular since many aging boomers always wanted to do it and never found the time, not to mention equipment and learning barriers were ever present. Times have changed and now the aging population is quite capable of taking up new hobbies. Photography makes an excellent hobby for the grandparents and camera manufacturers have not failed to notice this. We're seeing lots of retro style camera gear and I anticipate this trend to continue well into 2017. Also, look for classes geared towards the older population as well as workshops that are inclusive here.

8. Rise in Photographic Authority. Coupled with the aging boomer population and the younger folks shooting, we're seeing a geographic spreading of the photographic community. Now, we've always been a traveling kind but, in the past, a photographer had to rely upon the gallery circuit in a place like New York City to make sales and really exist as a successful fine art photographer. More recently, we've seen the Internet starting to take over web sales, so much so that a photographer in say Peoria is now able to make a living relying on Internet sales and working out of Peoria alone. Gone are the days of having to travel to the big city to rely upon larger venues an internationally known arenas for sales. That doesn't mean the big New York auction houses and galleries are going away, however, it just means things are changing. As this geographically spread community flexes its muscle, it will look for authoritative acceptance. I see places and events like the Armory Show, the Santa Fe Photography Workshops, Art Basel, the Venice Biennial, and others to play an increasing role and have a great say to the community. There will be a rise in significance in some of these traditional authorities on photography, and 2017 will find them having more of a say in the direct marketing since places like New York have a decreasing hold on the market. That photographer who is now able to grow a following in Peoria doesn't need New York gallery to be successful but a successful photographer from Peoria will want to make a splash at something like an Armory Show in order boost validity of their work. I expect this to continue well into and past 2017.

9. Media. Look for media to hire in 2017. I expect media will hire photographers again in 2017 but it will be new voices, not the same old tired work. As media is facing limited budgets but we're seeing things like eBooks rise, tablets are providing an outlet for media and will continue to do so in 2017. It's a new market out there though, so look for fresh looks, new voices, new names, and the like to make a splash. We're also seeing new crops of magazines show up and these are more geared towards the tablet space. As we see new rising stars in the media space, we'll see new photographic voices coupled with that success.

10. Style will be king and rule the world. OK, maybe not the entire universe but we're already seeing how photographers today have to rely more upon selling a style over selling a subject. 2017 will usher in more of this. Let's face it, in 2017 there really isn't a part of the globe that hasn't been photographed already. In the old days, a photographer could be the first person to visit outer Mongolia and come back with prints in order to be successful. Nowadays, heck, there's already a professional in outer Mongolia (I can hook you up if you'd like to meet her. Really, I can.) In order to make your mark, you can't show us something new, no, you have to show us something you. The photographers who were the most successful in 2016 had a unique style, a visual tell if you will, a unique perspective on the world around them. Gone are the days of one place being the "it" location. Sure, you can travel to Iceland or Mongolia or, heck, even Peoria, but it will do you little good if you don't show us your take on it. I expect this to continue in 2017 and even amplify. Look for more style kings to rule our collective roosts in 2017.

A couple of runners-up that didn't quite make the list: drones and 3D printing. I expect them both to be hot in 2017 and photographers to make more use of them.

These are my predictions for our new year. I wish you the best for 2017 and, no matter what happens, I hope you make the most of it photographically. Oh, and, if you're still curious about your recently passed grandmother and that boyfriend, well, sorry I really can't help you out on that front.

Until next time...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Best of 2016 - My Top Images

I've been asked to compile my best of 2016 images so I thought I would post them to the blog today. I've picked out the following 10 images to be my Best of 2016.











And the glorious details:
Image #1 from my trip to Lima, Peru in the Miraflores district. I was walking around and happened upon this red house that was being renovated. I was particularly struck by the different windows on this bright red house so I opted for this composition which highlights the three different window styles.

Image #2 from my trip to Minot, ND. I was walking around downtown Minot on the return from visiting rural North Dakota when I saw these grain silos. It was a sunny day, mid-day but I thought the blue sky worked as a nice background for the geometric and boldly colored structures. I tried to get a straight on perspective to emphasize the texture and lines in these rural buildings against that blue sky.

Image #3 back to Lima, Peru, this image was captured immediately down the street from my hotel. I noticed the playful geometry of the building facade alongside the speed bump and composed this shot as part of a later afternoon walk around the city.

Image #4 a blue door in a rural North Dakota farmhouse made for an interesting textural showcase. Instead of shooting it straight on, I opted for this more diagonal composition to highlight the peeling wall paint alongside that deep blue door.

Image #5 a blue couch from an abandoned North Dakota farmhouse. I was particularly drawn to the couches on this trip and this room drew me in with it's blue peeling paint and blue faded couch fabric.  I opted for a straight on composition to highlight the texture of the paint against the almost matching blue fabric from the couch.

Image #6 another North Dakota farmhouse, this time in the kitchen. The kitchen you see here is very close to the way they left it. I opted for the 3 point perspective style composition on this image to make it look more lively and almost playful, since the room was very full of items and I wanted to showcase that a bit in my composition.

Image #7 a bedroom in a rural North Dakota farmhouse. The home was abandoned but the bed was still made up and ready for sleeping. I wanted to reflect this tidiness so I opted for a straight on composition and tried to minimize elements in the image.

Image #8 a school house in Willow City, Texas. This was from a trip to photograph abandoned historic school houses in rural Texas. I shot this straight and put the desk in the center to highlight its importance and give it more weight within the image.

Image #9 a school house in Johnson City, Texas. This building dates back to early 1900's and had been abandoned but left mostly empty and untouched. I played around with the placement of this chair a great deal, settling on this image which places it near the left hand side. I thought it balanced out the leaves on the floor and the lines in the wall so I preferred this composition over a more middle/balanced one.

Image #10 a church basement in rural North Dakota. The church is abandoned now but many items remain in the basement, as you can see from the image here. This was shot almost straight on but slightly high to give the impression that you are looking a bit down upon the scene. I wanted it to look a bit cinematic in nature so I opted for this line and composition.

I hope 2016 found a great crop of images from your pile as well.

The great photographer Ansel Adams once said, "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." It's difficult sometimes to look back and fine anything of value but that's the nature of what we do. I hope 2017 finds us all with better images or at least, you know, getting closer to the point of 12 in one year.

Until next time...