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Solitary Success

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It’s been a long time since I took a day and just went out to be a photographer.  Too long, evidently.  I drove up to the top of our local sky island to escape the oppressive record heat.  There is a nice loop trail up near the observatory.  I took my Sony a7R III, left the zoom in the car, and put the macro on.  I was going on what I like to call “Bug Safari.” I’ve done this a lot in the past with my Olympus OMD E-5.  It’s fun and I’ve gotten great shots.

Aside from the image above, which you will notice contains no bugs, the day was a spectacular failure.  The Sony’s menu is a rabbit hole of options, seven sub menus with several sub sub menus each.  Honestly, I have never even tried to master it.  I’m sure if I took the time, I could learn my way around and program the three presets available to me, but I bought this camera for a specific purpose, my Guatemala Abuelos project.  It served me well in low light, high quality video and portraiture.

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It was the right tool for the job.  Now it is too much.  I frankly can’t be bothered to learn all the ins and outs of using this camera.  The payoff for all that work simply isn’t worth the effort.  I just want to take photos.  I’m not a point and shoot guy, although I do shoot on auto in some situations, but the complexity of this camera makes my entire photographic being glaze over. I am also moving to Oaxaca in the next couple of years, and I would much rather walk around with an unobtrusive, small image making device than this bulky Cadillac.

Anyway, not a single bug portrait came out. This is also due to my not learning how to operate the macro lens I bought last summer.  Olympus makes it all so simple.  I like simple. I’m going to sell the Sony. This also means my images will return to the 4:3 format I love.  Yay!

 

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Bread And Roses – Right Lane Must Turn Right

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This photo is from a 2011 protest in Tucson in support of Wisconsin municipal workers who were being denied collective bargaining rights by then governor Scott Walker who would later go on to lose a bid for president in 2016. He was finally evicted from office last year.

There is a guy named Andrew Yang running for the Democratic nomination for president.  His central platform and answer to all the nation’s problems is a guaranteed basic income for every American adult of $1000 a month.  He proposes to pay for this with a VAT tax which will raise $800 billion a year and alleged savings in other programs which by his estimation could amount to about a trillion and a half.  That is a total of 2.3 trillion dollars at the most optimistic of his estimates.

There are 250 million adults in the United States.  $1000 a month for each would be $250 billion a month, or $3 trillion a year.  This leaves Yang about $700 billion short, and we haven’t even factored in all the other expenses of the US government, from infrastructure to the military.

He is also promising amnesty for all marijuana criminals and legalization.  Maybe he figures if we are stoned enough, we won’t notice the country falling apart around us?

I want some of what he’s smoking if he thinks he has a chance of winning the nomination. Most people don’t want a handout.  They want jobs and dignity.

(all numbers except the population statistic from Yang’s website)

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Selective Focus

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Back when I had a Facebook photography page, I used to make posts titled “Here And Now,” which consisted of photos taken within a block of my house.  It was a sort of challenge to myself to find worthwhile subjects within the same area over and over. I learned a lot doing it.

This image was taken with my Olympus OMD E5 using the 12-50 kit lens on macro setting.  I focused on the orange and then deliberately shifted it out of the center of the image, composing the photo with the focal point off center. I do this a lot, moving the subject of my image away from the center.  It helps the viewer notice everything else, especially when it isn’t in focus, and, in this case, makes for a more pleasing abstraction.

This morning I was listening to NPR’s Left, Right, and Center podcast.  They were talking of course about gun violence, and what we should do about it.  I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the “conservative” voice.  He insisted, as right wing, pro gun pundits often do, on focusing only on the most recent mass shooting and how none of the proposed gun law reforms would have stopped it.  Unlike my photograph, his selective focus was designed to distract the listener from the larger composition. Mass shootings are the catalyst for these discussions, but they should not be the focus.  Most gun deaths in this country are caused by handguns, not AR-15 rifles, and most of them are suicides.  Guns don’t kill people, but they make it a whole lot easier to do so, even when we are talking about suicide.

Another annoying tendency of politicians on the NRA payroll is to deflect the focus completely out of the picture frame.  Imagine if I had focused on the orange and then moved my camera until the fruit was no longer in the frame.  I might get a pleasing image, but it would no longer be relevant to the subject.  This is what happens when NRA toadies start talking about mental illness or video games.  The entire world has access to violent video games.  The entire world has mental illness.  Outside of war zones, no country has an epidemic of gun deaths even approaching what we have.  The only relevant difference between us and them is access to guns. Gun control advocates need to learn to talk about the whole picture.  Too often they play into the hand of the NRA by calling for “assault” weapons bans after an incident where someone uses one to kill a group of people.

My opinion is that guns should be like cars.  You should have to have training, a license, and insurance.  All ammunition should be traceable to point of sale and purchaser. All gun laws should be national to prevent someone from buying 100 handguns in Montana, driving to Chicago, and selling them out of the trunk of his car without a background check. And those background checks should be mandatory, exhaustive, and include a significant waiting period. I think this will stand up to the second amendment, but if not, maybe we need to repeal it.

Is that focused enough?

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Juxtaposition

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For this post, I’m going all the way back to 2005, when I bought my first DSLR and went to Vietnam and Cambodia on a whirlwind low budget two week trip.  I mean seriously low budget.  My friend Franz and I got a room together in Hanoi for $6 a night, and our room in Siem Reap by Angkor Wat was $4. We were there before the tourism boom, and were still able to climb all over the temples in Cambodia. It was magical.  I spent years thereafter trying to find the next Angkor Wat, finally realizing in Mandalay in 2013 that you don’t ever find it again, and that you cheapen each new experience by comparing it to the precious memory.

Anyway, I was very much a beginning photographer at this point, and still calling myself “a painter with a really good camera.”  When I got home, I took my new camera on a couple local excursions, including one to the Chiricahua National Monument.  I took images from Angkor Wat and used Photoshop to combine them with images from the Chiricahuas in a series called Juxtapositions.

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I still find the results of this photoplay magical.  Parallels and similarities exist in the most disparate places and environments.  All you have to do is look and you will find them.

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This was the first image I made.  Something about the natural erosion of the rock being at the root of the temple design.  I’m sure someone more skilled than I at Photoshop could manipulate the connection between the two images to be more seamless and organic, but I kind of like that you see them as connected at first and then the hard edge between them delineates their separation.

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This last one is maybe a bit more subtle.  I love the shape between the mountain ridge and the statue’s neckline.  There was a teacher at Pratt who taught me to see.  I remember him holding his hands up, palm facing palm, parallel and saying “this isn’t beautiful.”  Then he slightly altered the angle and position of each so they were no longer parallel but complimentary and said “this is.”  I am certain that those weren’t the exact words he used, but I understood in that moment how to juxtapose two things together.

If only it were so easy with people.

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Maybe

We have finally learned not to name the animals who commit mass murder by gun. They want attention and fame. We deprive them of it. Maybe we should take the same approach with the animal who is randomly shooting down everything good about our country. Never mention him by name or quote him. Simply acknowledge and deal with the death and destruction he is causing. Then vote.

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Abstract Photos

Two from Maine and one each from Wisconsin and Montana.  All taken last summer.

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Photos like this are scattered through my archives.  I have long intended to make a place for them on my website.  I’m pretty sure the yearly visits to it are in the single digits, though, so I never seem to bother.  “Abstract” photography comes most naturally to me of all the types.  I’m not sure why it is so poorly represented in my portfolio.

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Windows And Walls

delhi-sm I recently executed a major overhaul of my guest house apartment, including purging the space of unnecessary furniture and a lot of art supplies which I am unlikely to use.  Behind a stack of frames that I have had since I closed my photo gallery in 2013, I found four large 30×40 prints from my 2007 trip to India, each nicely mounted on 1/2″ foam core.  They now adorn my walls.  This is currently my favorite. I took it in Old Delhi, seated on the curb, with my camera at street level angled up to be as unobtrusive as possible. I love this image.  It feels like a window on my wall, looking straight into India and down this Delhi street. Nobody is paying attention to me, the photographer, so I am not part of the image. So much of what urban India feels like is on display here, but that is not what I am posting about.

When I lived in Phoenix in the early ’90s, I participated in an yearly outdoor show called the Celebration Of Fine Art.  A juried group of artists paid for a booth for 2 months under a large circus style tent in north Scottsdale.  Then the public paid admission to get in and see us at work in the studios we set up in out booths.  The operators of the show also took 18% of all sales.  Needless to say, they made heaps of cash.  Many artists did very well, also.  I more or less broke even, but it was a great experience, and I did it again the next year when they took the Celebration to the Del Mar racetrack in California.  I got lots of advice from the more successful artists at the Celebration. One piece that I have carried with me because it is such an interesting psychological take on selling art is this: if someone expresses interest in your work, encourage them to take it home and live with it for a while at no charge.  Then they can either buy it or bring it back.  The idea is that when they hang it on their wall, it is like they are installing a window, and if they take it down again, the wall will jump out and smack them in the face, making the room feel smaller. It’s true.  Art, even two dimensional abstract art, makes a space feel larger because of the illusion of perspective it creates. But, and this is important, an actual window is much more effective at expanding one’s view of and connection with the world outside one’s room, if only because a photograph or painting is static and unchanging, whereas the view through an actual window is dynamic and alive.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t have art, just that one should also have windows.

Now I know I’ve been a bit obsessed with my departure from Facebook recently, but I think about it a lot.  I’ll get over it eventually, but right now, I think I am experiencing something akin to what happens when that potential buyer takes the painting off the wall and suddenly their world feels smaller and less interesting, even though it really isn’t.  I think this experience is what keeps billions of people plugged into this one second-rate app.  I shouldn’t compare Facebook to fine art.  It’s more like the kind of generic crap they hang in cheap motels, cranked out by the thousands in low paid sweatshops in asia.  But there is still that feeling of loss when you leave it.  Building real windows is a lot harder than hanging a velvet Elvis in your wall, but don’t all worthwhile things take a bit more work?

So go ahead, keep that velvet Elvis if you must, but open up the window too.  You’ll probably see me out there in the real world.

 

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Coming Out From Under

Cicadas.  I have a colony that lives inside my head thanks to a lifetime of exposure to power tools and loud music without the benefit of hearing protection.  There is no such thing as complete silence in my world any more. I’m so used to it that I hardly notice.

Lore states that they hibernate underground for 17 years and then come out to breed.  Actually, there are cicadas which emerge anywhere between yearly and 17 years.  Also, they don’t hibernate, they munch on tree roots.

I’m going to go with the myth here. I would love to hibernate for 17 years, then emerge and see what had changed, over and over, leapfrogging through time into the future.  This whole limited span on Earth is frustrating.

It’s been two months now since I emerged from the black hole that is Facebook. Most of the people I know are still buried there, munching on their roots, feeding on old connections. It’s different up here in the light.  I’m no less busy, I still have an active social life.  I still have an online presence, and I’d like to think it’s more substantial.  It is disconcerting how many friends I have heard nothing from, even if they were friends long before Facebook.  I guess those roots are so delicious and easy to get to that it’s too much trouble to tunnel out into the real world.  Two buttons on the phone to send a message.  One blue, the other orange.  Both function in nearly identical ways, but people are so conditioned to push the blue one that if you aren’t connected to it, you might as well not exist.

As I said, I’d love to hibernate periodically so as to see the future happen.  That fantasy presumes no loss of time while out of touch.  Facebook is like hibernation that sucks up all your time and social energy, feeding you tailored triggers so you never surface at all. Your life is consumed rather than extended. I won’t be going back under.

“I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”

When I first saw this quote, I nodded my head in agreement. Then I saw the accompanying image. The notion of creation and creativity when it comes to photography is something I have struggled with since I picked up a camera. When I paint on canvas or draw on paper, I am indeed “creating something which would not have existed without me.” When I photograph the light coming through the clouds over mountains and a stream, however, I am merely noticing, selecting, and recording what was already there. Even in post-production, I am not so much creating as enhancing. A staged photo with models or a still life could be considered creative, as it was contrived by placing the model or objects and controlling the light. I’m not altogether sure that the image presented here is any more creative than the photograph of water running over rocks that the artist derides in his quote.

Art of Quotation

“If all your life means to you is water running over rocks, then photograph it, but I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”

— Minor White, photographer

Featured image: Grand Tetons, 1959, Minor White


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