Friday, February 17, 2017

Llama Drama Ding Dong

Portrait of a llama or maybe an alpaca
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.