Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Eclipse Surfacing

Surface detail of an iceburg in rural Iceland.
In case you had not heard the news, there's going to be a total eclipse of the sun. At first, I was not enamored with this event. I mean, yes sure, it's a total eclipse of the sun and, frankly, they don't come around too often, but honestly these things don't grab me too much as a photographer. Initially, there's just not a heck of a lot I felt like doing with the subject. Now, as it's getting closer, I'm starting to realize this total eclipse is shaping up to be more than just an eclipse. More than just an opportunity to view the bright light of the sun in the middle of the day. No, it's shaping up to be a moment. You know what I'm talking about here. An event that's bigger than any one of us. That kind of a moment.

I'm too young to remember, but I do recall hearing about the Kennedy assassination. That was one of those moments too. Everybody who lived through it recalls where they were, what they were doing at exactly the instant it happened. It was a moment in history. A placeholder, a mile marker if you will excuse the mixed metaphor, along the times of our lives. There have been other moments such as these in my lifetime too. One of my earliest memories, in fact probably my earliest memory, is of the men landing on the moon. I remember it well, even though I was a very young child. Now, my memories are not vivid, they pop in and out. It's just at the end of my ability to remember anything at all in fact, but I do recall the men landing on the moon. What a strange trip, what a strange time. Men on the moon, who could have imagined it, right?

Now, I don't think this solar eclipse will be quite as memorable as either of these events. No, Kennedy and the moon landing were pretty stand out as far as memories go, but I do think this solar eclipse is going to bring us together in ways other events have not. There's sort of a groundswell of feelings, emotions, right now and I do think this will collectively bring us together, if only for a moment, to stop and look up at the sky. I've lamented here how it's a bit melancholy that nobody looks at the night sky or the moon anymore. The space program is not enough to distract us from our cell phones. Sad truth there, but that's where we are as a people these days. I honestly think the solar eclipse will bring us together, silly little glasses and Quaker Oats boxes in tow, to stare up at the sky and ponder something bigger than all of us. Science, the sun, the universe, it's all up there, and it'll all be up there for us to come together and marvel over come Monday, bring your own silly little eyeglasses and such.

You can tell it's shaping up to be a game changer in a couple of ways. For starters, when I think of the total eclipse, a couple of songs come to mind. There's that old 80's song, "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Bonnie Tyler just announced she's going to perform the song during this year's total eclipse of the sun. Anything that has theme music, why, that's a tell tale sign right there that it's bigger than you and I. When I think of music for the eclipse, maybe I'm revealing my age here, but I can't help but think about Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." I'm sure I'm not going to be the only one to gavotte over those lyrics. "Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun." I'm sure Mick Jagger is going to fly someplace to catch a glimpse. If there were any justice in the universe, why, he's run into Justin Bieber during the trip, right?

If all of this music were not enough, everyplace is selling out of glasses left and right, not to mention I've seen countless blog posts, readings, ramblings, and the like telling us how to view the eclipse, telling us how to live stream the eclipse, telling us how to photograph the eclipse, and so on. It's as if the entire world has just stopped, just long enough, to grab a peek at the sun. Frankly, I must confess, the bug has bitten me too. I want to grab some glasses, maybe take a peek outside, just for a couple of minutes to, you know, forget about life for a while.

A few years ago we had another visible eclipse that I can remember. It was not a total solar eclipse but it was noteworthy. I can recall reading that it was going to happen about four pm in the daytime. I had been busy at work and forgotten about it but, about the slated time, I looked up and was shocked by the lights in the sky. The light had gone all "twinkly" and I could not figure out why. Then, it dawned on me (in this case, probably quite literally) that it was the eclipse. Yes, my photographer friends, it's true, the light does get really freaky during an eclipse. We should all enjoy it as photographers if for nothing else than that reason alone. Freaky, I tell you. Freakier than Missy Elliott at a furry convention. We're talking freaky here, ok? I can't wait to see what it's going to look like this time around and that right there is probably enough of a reason to get me excited about it, right?

Gavotte on, my friends, the eclipse is upon us.

Until next time...

PS This one from the glacial lagoon up in Iceland. Ah, fond memories of traveling someplace cool.

PPS If you want some of your own freaky little glasses, B&H photo has them but you must hurry. Time is growing short and light is about to freak. Chop chop!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Days of Wine and...Crap, We Really Had Rotten Film Back Then

There's a propensity we humans have to remember things fondly. When we look back, and we do look back quite a bit, we tend to remember things much more fondly than when we were actually living them in the moment. This holds true for a lot of things, photography does not escape the truism anymore than say knitting I would imagine, but I talk about photography a lot so I guess it's something I just tend to notice more with regards to that field. At least I noticed it the other day, when I was asked a specific question. The question was innocent enough, "Which of the images from Robert Frank's The Americans is your favorite?" It's an easy enough question to answer as well. While Frank shot over 28,000 shots for The Americans, only 83 were included in the final work. Picking one out of 83 should not be that big of a deal, but the question itself got me to thinking. And, by now anyway, you should know that when I think why it often ends up here in the form of a midnight ramble (of sorts.)

The Americans was, in many ways, the quintessential American photo book. It still holds up today as the benchmark in many ways for what makes a good photo book. When you place it in historical context, it was a giant standard barer for all photo books to come afterwards. Shot as a Guggenheim open grant over the course of two years worth of road trips across America, the book featured a forward by then noted beat writer Jack Kerouac. Just think about that for a second. I mean, who takes two years to amass 28000 shots from which to cull 83 images to make a book? Who gets Jack Kerouac to write the introduction for that book? Crap, who even gets a Guggenheim grant these days? See where I'm going with this? It was epic no matter how you slice it. It's an epic photo book that still holds up today as not only epic but perhaps the most epic of all epic photo books. It's the YEOWZA! of photo books.

All of that aside, back to the original question. Which image is my favorite? From the 83, if I had to pick one, single one out from all of this YEOWZA!-ness, which would it be? What strikes me as interesting is not that there's 83 to pick from, not the entire YEOWZA!-ness of the work itself (although I do find that mind boggling in and of itself) no, what struck me as peculiar is that, in this day and age, I'd have to wonder if The Americans would ever even been made. Would it have even come to pass?

Fast forward to 2017. Today, right now in fact, if I were to log onto Flickr, or 500px, or Nat Geo's Your Shot, or Instagram or one of the many, many (so very many!) other photography hovels out there, what would I find and how would it stack up to what we found in The Americans? The images today are technically brilliant. The advances in technology have made it so that we can now churn out technically brilliant images day after day, night after night. The cameras are even getting smaller. I'd be willing to venture a guess that somebody could take on a project much like the work in The Americans using only a cell phone camera. And it would be epic. That's epic as in EPIC. It would technically blow away some of the images from the late 1950's and, heck, it wouldn't even look back to notice the dust. Seriously. If you don't believe me, don't take my word for it, go look at Flickr's Explore or some of the Popular images on 500px or dip into one of the other hovels to see what people are doing nowadays.

Photography has come a long way. We're more capable now of making brilliant, technically precise images than ever before. We have editing that photographers like Frank couldn't even dream about back then. Heck, we don't even have film all that much anymore. Frank had to deal with crappy, rotten film that expired and couldn't stand the mid-day heat. Processing labs, clunky cameras, horrible equipment, and lots of nuisances along the way, yet he still managed to crank out The Americans. To me, this is akin to how our space program made it to the moon using only slide rules. Now we have lots and lots of calculators, phones that can do advanced mathematics, all kinds of personal computers, yet we can hardly get off the back porch. It's both an advanced and very primitive way of living, isn't it? We've come so far yet we can't seem to get it in gear. Pretty soon, if not already, photographers are going to be getting replaced by robots. And, by golly, what are they going to do? These photographic robots, what are they going to do? Shoot lots and lots of images that look just like The Americans only with lazier, tired people as subjects, people who don't even know what the moon looks like anymore? (Can somebody please save me from that before it happens even though we all know it's only a matter of time and it's coming?)

Today's technology has given us a lot. The "good" old days weren't always so nice. We really did have some rotten film back then (some good film too but, you know, rotten stuff was out there in the wilds too.) It all just leaves me wondering though, just a little bit, I mean, what are we going to do with all of this? We have thousands of perfect images sitting on Flickr and 500px and all of those other places yet it also seems like we hardly enjoy the art of photography anymore. It begs the question, if The Americans were made today, would anyone even bother to notice? The America...oh look! Justin Bieber got a new haircut. Is that our new YEOWZA! and does it amount to little more than a digitized variant of a squirrel for a dog?

So, I guess my answer to the question is going to be a cop out as well. As for which image from The Americans, which of the 83 is my favorite, I'd have to say the next one that looks a little bit like a barn from Walker Evans or a train car from Robert Frank circa 1958. You can pick it out if you digitally squat over on Flickr and mine the hashtag #Americana (or some such thing.) Because, why the next one, yeah that next one, that's going to be my new favorite. Turn the crank and make another, why don't you? We really had some rotten film back in those days but does that even matter anymore when we've all got this shiny new filter we can play with on Instagram?

Frankly, I'm surprised there isn't a Robert Frank filter somewhere, out in the wilds. Then again, maybe there is and I was just too busy being too old school to notice such a beast? Either way, I'm going to sit this one out. The Americans was an epic book but I don't think we deserve it anymore, let alone a favorite. If you want me to pick a favorite, why, it'd be the next cheap knockoff churning out of the perfection mill. The last one before the robots grab the handle and pull, yup, that'd be the one.

Until next time...

Friday, August 11, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - August 11th

A blue gradient sky with  heart shaped cloud loom over Austin, Texas
When you are reaching for new opportunities, they sky is the limit, right? So, here's some sky for you and here's some, "Get after it!" from me. Opportunities for this week include:
 I've been opting to add a few more calls each week but repeating a few that have not yet expired.

Good luck!
--Until next time...

Monday, August 07, 2017

A New Business Model Rustling In

Swirls of green bamboo create the appearance of rustling through a forest in Austin's Zilker Park
There's a rustling about. I can hear it as I walk through the kingdom of one eyed men. Photographers, it would appear, are getting unsettled. At some point in our lives, the notion that one can and will make a living doing this pops into one's head and this, why this my friends, can be the cause of a lot of strife. Recently, there's been a new "business" model in town. There's a new website I recently read about called Unsplash. In case you're curious, I read about Unsplash here, in DP Review online, in actually an opinion piece written by the site's creator, Mikael Cho. The nature of the website is simple. Content, aka images, are provided free of charge on the website. Yes, you read that correctly. The way the site works is you upload your images and make them available free of charge, free for anyone to use, without any compensation whatsoever. Now, while it can be difficult to envision how a photographer might make a living doing this, the idea behind the site is that exposure is good for photographers and that images are better shared rather than not. An image you might otherwise have kept hidden or tucked away on an obscure hard drive can now be made available for promotional purposes.

I have mixed feelings about this. While it's true there are a lot of people who have make careers out of, for example, the creative commons style licensing, there's also sage advice surrounding why one would not want to work for exposure and exposure alone. Let's face it. You can't pay your bills with exposure. Giving things away might seem cool at first but, how does this really translate into monetary gain for the photographer? Also, I question the validity of the website itself. At one point, it might get sold and, upon sale the images contained would all become up for grabs. It seems like a recipe for disaster in a lot of ways. Then again, it might just be crazy enough to work.

Love it or hate it, it is generating a lot of traffic. I'm sure the site's founder will make a pretty penny no matter how things fall out. Am I kicking the door down to sign up and give my work away for free? Well, maybe not but I too might check out the site. There is something to be said for old images, tossing them away, seeing what sticks. A bit like donating old clothing to Goodwill, of sorts. Somebody might as well use them, right? And, let's face it, more exposure could not hurt, right?

The site itself, along with the opinion piece in question also raises a lot of questions about the future of photography, how we'll make money, how the business end of things is changing, and changing a lot. The average stock sales total a whopping $511 a year. That's certainly not enough to live off of, right? It can be hard to make a living at this and the recent influx of new technology, great cameras, and the like have a downside. Sure, it's great to have access to new technology, but it also opens up the world of photography to a lot more people. We look at and experience more images now than ever before but, as a society, as a culture, as a human race, we're also making images more than ever before too. Everybody everywhere, it would appear, has a camera and is a photographer. Between that and the Internet taking over while morphing itself every two years or so, why, it puts some established photographers in a pickle.

Now, I don't pretend to have any easy answers but the questions themselves, they are a bit interesting to me. It seems like we are always in the wait and see mode yet, somehow, I also always feel like I'm just ten feet shy of getting that big break and making it. Fun times, I swear, fun times. Well, fun times and a bunch of stuff to think about if you're so-inclined.

Until next time...

PS This one taken with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens. Zilker Botanical Garden, rustling about indeed.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Forsaken at SE Center for Photography and Minted Prints Available

Soft detailed close up shot of an blue green agave plant from Texas
I have a couple of show news type items to tell you about. For starters, the "Forsaken" show at the SE Center of Photography has opened. You can browse the work at the following link:

The show will run until 8/27. The Center is located at 1239 Pendleton St, Greenville, SC, 29611 in case anybody reading this is in the area and wants to pop in to check it out. 

Next up, I have included a new print in my store. As a reminder, you can get limited edition prints of selected pieces on the website. Here's a link to my storefront:

Until next time...

Friday, August 04, 2017

Opportunity Weekend - August 4th

A delicate compositional detail of grass growing with some flora included, from Zilker Park in Austin Texas
It's that time again. Time for opportunity weekend. Here are some opportunities for you:
 Best of luck with the many opportunities that are out there for you.

Until next time...

PS This one from Zilker Park, taken with the Canon 5DS and the walkabout lens. Oh, how I love me some Zilker Park, even in this dreaded heat.