Monday, February 26, 2007

For lack of anything better to say...

One of the things I wanted to do when I got up this morning was to get together a new post. I didn't have any new images, or anything in particular to spin on, so I wondered if I should even bother or simply wait for stronger motivation.

In the end I decided to simply start writing and see where it went. I even found an old pic to share. If this image pleases you at all I'd like you take a moment to think about why you like it, before you finish reading my thoughts about it.

I don't remember much about this pic. Not the location, the lens that was used, my motivation when I tripped the shutter, nothing like that. But it is one that I saw fit to keep rather that delete along with all the other garbage that accumulates on my PC.

What makes it different? What qualities does it possess that make it a "keeper"?

I suppose I was initially attracted to the vibrancy of the greens, the sense of disconnectedness, and the way the tones, along with the bokeh, frame the focal point. Beyond this I can't say that it did much for me, but these things were enough to make it worth keeping. Until now, though, I haven't bothered to share.

So I kept it, shouldn't that alone make it worth sharing? Was the time not right, did I just not like it well enough? Was it not worthy?

When I look at the finished photo in a critical manner I can see that it doesn't really go anywhere. It's green and gray. The simple, amateurish composition is decidedly centered around a teensy focal point. (It's a lousy macro of a latch, for heavens sake.) What more is there to see?

But then, when I look it with a non-critical eye I see that there is a bit more. Not much, perhaps, but a little. This is where the tones that frame the focal point get my attention. They're creamy and rich. I like that. The latch seems to be hanging in midair. Shouldn't it be attached to a door? The colors are rich, and the patina on the latch tells a little of its age.

So now I share. Not much, perhaps, but a little.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chained Justice

I spent the day as a juror in civil court yesterday and was presented the opportunity for this capture as I passed the time out front during recess. I knew at once that it would likely get a black and white treatment and in this I was not disappointed. It came out so much like I imagined that I was utterly pleased with myself. It's one of the few black and white images that have lived up to my expectations, my vision, before the shutter was even tripped. And as an artist that has been struggling with monochrome, this is cause enough for celebration.

Also of significance, at least to me, is that I did not capture this image with my DSLR. It was done with my lowly little Canon S30, an aging 3mp camera that is still quite capable of stunning me with the quality and depth and of its captures.

Treasure Swapping

Today's pic is a simple one. Just some stuff in the corner of our garage. It's one of those things that I see all the time but dont bother to try and capture. After all, it'll be there tomorrow.

You see, I live in a house endowned with years and years of accumulated wealth. Nothing exotic or expensive, mostly furnishings, cast-off appliances, and lots of other "stuff" that has never found a home more suitable than a dusty corner of the garage or the darkened corner of one of our many "store rooms" (in addition to closets and 1/2 of a two car garage, we have 2, ahem, store rooms... one doubles as a bedroom).

You might think that that with all this "stuff" laying around there would be no need, nor desire for me to peruse the local second-hand stores and flea markets in search of treasures. But you would be wrong. Indeed, I believe it's my strong acquaintance with "stuff" that leads me to find other collections of it so interesting. Besides, most of our stuff technically belongs to my Wife, and she doesn't like it when I try to get rid of her stuff; no matter how useless, broken, or ugly it may be.

She says the kids might need it one day when they get their own houses. Maybe. In the meantime, I'm slowly gathering my own hoard of stuff. When we run short on room and something has to go... I'll ferry off one of her pieces and replace it with one of my own. She never even misses her old stuff when I do it this way. After all, it's not like she really knows what she has.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Last One

As I've often mentioned through this blog, it has been a good while since I put in any serious time behind the lens. I have missed it, but have felt somewhat stifled by any number of factors that made '06 a difficult but rewarding year. But enough of that. I'm ready to roll.

Today's image is an old one. The last one rendered in color that I liked from the get go. Most everything else I've been marginally satisfied with through the whole of '06 wound up in black and white. Not sure why. In any case, I actually captured this pear in late '05 and presented a similar print to my Mother for Christmas that year. I still consider it one of the best prints I have managed to produce, it has a wonderful texture and richness. The title for this image, even then, was "The Last One."

The pear was the last of a batch given to me by a friend, and they were exceptionally delicious. In fact, the best pears I have ever tasted. The image was taken with a home-made lens baby, of sorts. It was actually a rather ugly combination of duct tape, an old extension tube, and an 80mm CZJ biometar. Through using it you can impart a painterly quality to the image that I have always found pleasing.

I'm hoping to move in this direction again very soon.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Searching for the validity in validation.

Often I am forced to write before giving my subjects enough proper thought and maturation time. Other times I wait too long and end up rambling through a twisted and often incoherent maze of ideas that bears little resemblance to the original thought. Such is the way my mind works. Part of my goal with blogging is get better with this kind of thing. Just don't expect it to happen right away.

Today's topic was prompted, in a roundabout kind of way, by two photographers in cyberspace whom I have never met but whose works I nevertheless admire, Ted Byrne and Andreas Manessinger (well, ok. I have kinda met Ted through email and such. A cyberspace intro, if you will). I believe Ted provided the seed of the idea, and somehow, reading through a couple of posts on Andeas' blog watered it and set it free. The idea revolves a central question for me, which is to say, simply, Why do I do this?

I'm not out for profit, and if not to profit, then why? Fair enough question, and for myself, at least, I will attempt to answer it. (Eventually, of course, you will have to bear with me.)

Now, you could argue that profit comes in many different coats and colors and that it need not revolve around the dollar. And you would be correct to say just that. It's certainly true. Or, it could be as simple as "I like taking pitcher's," as another of my online acquaintances, John Setzler, has been known to say. I also know of those who feel so strongly about photography that they would be lost without it. For them this form of creation has become so overwhelming that it could be likened to the needs of an addict, with shutter clicks, photoshop, printmaking and what not providing the regular fix. I believe we can all be just as serious about the work we produce, and we all seem to desire some form of validation. Something to let us know when (if?) our efforts have connected with someone else.

So we seek validation. Through online forums, blogs and art shows and in sharing prints with friends and relatives, we all seek to validate our work. If not, and these photographers may well exist, we would simply take our photos and keep them to ourselves, never letting them beyond our own light boxes or computer screens.

In my case, part of the pleasure of re-discovering photography through the digital realm was the ability to share them so readily. A print or slideshow was no longer required and the audience, though not as intimate, was much broader. Often, the validation was not of a high-quality (hey man, nice shot!) but it was validation and in that respect it was all good. Like so many others, I participated for time in the free for all of photosig, once the ultimate "you pat my back I'll pat yours" forum for sharing. I also participated in a few daily photo contest sites and a much more interesting weekly challenge site. All were good, at least for a time, at providing me with the needed validation and for keeping me busy with working photos, exploring photoshop, and equally importantly, with learning to hone my skills at commenting and in understanding the validation process. What makes a comment a good comment?

As I learn more and more my thoughts on this have changed considerably. Comments I once perceived as insightful, were, in fact, often not applicable to what I was after. These are the comments I learned to handle with care. Both with acceptance and delivery. Not every blurry photo was meant to be sharp, after all. The problem is that, in a technical sense, we often can't know what the artist meant. But as long as the image has some meaning for us in its final vision, whatever insights or thoughts on the image we may have need not be what the artist intended to be valid. For as far as I'm concerned we should always be free to describe our impressions to whatever end works for us. I know I like that kind of thing, and I'm sure others do as well.

So when I comment these days I try to do so in a manner that benefits both me and the artist, and my criteria is pretty simple. 1) If I comment at all I like it. 2) If I try to explain why I like it then I like it a lot. I try to stay away from technical issues unless they have some real bearing on what I like.

So, yes, I comment only on those pieces that I like, those that move me in some way. I don't see the need for attempting to hand out "constructive criticism" where I may be off the mark in my interpretation of the work. You may consider this playing it safe, I consider it giving the benefit of doubt to the artist. Does this make my commentary less useful or constructive than it could be? In certain forums I'm sure it does, but in others I'd like to think that it makes for better validation overall.

I comment in this way because they are kinds of validations I most like to receive. It helps to remind me of why I picked up the camera in the first place--to communicate my vision to others. And only when I feel that I have succeeded on some level do I feel comfortable moving on to the next. Whatever the heck that may be.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stately Elegance

I figured it was high time to figure how to post a pic or two.

This image was captured at the Arkansas state capital building. When I first looked at this scene I was attracted to the lighting. I setup and took the photo with a 300D and Sigma 12-24 at 24mm. When I went to process the photo there were strong flares and I initially felt it wasn't worth mucking with. Still, I went back later and tried a B&W conversion to see if it would quell the flares any.

Lo and behold, not only were the flares effectively masked, but it really brought out all the strong textures in the woodgrain. It wound up being my favorite shot of the day.

I'm still not fond of the way the indoor lighting caused the spot in the center. It looked all wrong when I tried to mask it, and cropping it out spoiled it altogether. Still, it makes for a pretty print, imo, spot and all.

'06 was a rather lean year for me photographically. I spent more time building a new mini-view camera rig than I did taking photos. This year I hope to put the new rig to good use, I'm just waiting for the weather to warm up a bit.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Camera? I don't need no stinking camera....

In an earlier post I billed myself as a "part-time photographer," and this is true. I have the equipment but often don't make the use of it that I probably should.

So what.

I was keen observer of the world before I ever picked up a camera. In fact, I didn't purchase an SLR until I was the ripe old age of 20. It was a purchase made, in part, to try and record some of the natural beauty I was experiencing on my nearly weekly sojourns into the Ozark mountains. Another part of me just wanted something new to fiddle with, and a 1967 vintage Nikon F filled the bill nicely. The camera was nearly as old as I was when I made the purchase.

Problems quickly ensued. The F, though a wonderful camera in many respects... fully manual, built like a tank, just plain cool to look at, also weighed about 10 pounds when the 85mm f1.8 lens that came with it was attached. Not to mention the fact that the 85mm lens was not the most ideal choice for landscapes. So I picked up nice second-hand 35mm f2 lens. It worked better for landscapes, but still didn't bring down the crushing weight of the F by much, especially since I now felt utterly compelled to bring both lenses along! Add a tripod to the mix and my weekly outings became rather encumbered with gear. Not fun.

So very soon I learned that, on some trips, the camera would be staying at home. This is when I began to wax philosophical about not having the camera with me for every outing. I told myself then, and have even grown to believe, that, at times, a camera can actually impugn ones deeply personal connection with all things of natural beauty.

Having the camera was great, but not having it became no big deal. (It no doubt helped that after going through my first several dozen rolls of film I had produced only one or two images that I felt had any merit whatsoever.)

Eventually I purchased a newer, much lighter camera and lenses, but even then I kept the bag at home on some trips. On others I'd have the bag, but the camera might never come out of it.

I got in the habit of pausing over scenes that interested me. I would size them up and make a decision on how well I thought I would be able to capture it photographically before making the effort. Along the way I learned not to worry so much about the photograph, and concentrate first on enjoying the moment.

It works for me.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Atlantis Found!

If I had a dime....

Atlantis is surely one of the most sought after ancient cities of lore, holding the fascination of young and old alike in the centuries since Plato first wrote of its existence in his dialogues. I'm no different. I love this kind of stuff. Enough to devote a significant amount of time to postulating about its whereabouts in a modern, Google Earth powered kind of way.

A real city? Perhaps. But it may be one that defies discovery.

Now, I'm familiar with all the usual suspects... Crete, Santorini, Cayce's Bahamas, the Canaries and the Azores, etc.... And while reasonable cases can be made in evidence for each of them, ultimately, they all fall short of the mark. At least when you try to factor in the words of Plato in a literal fashion.

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules

For me this is one point that we ought to pay attention to. The Pillars of Hercules would seem to be a pretty a hard-to-miss landmark that have presumably been known and referred to since folks first started sailing about the worlds oceans. Not only do they guard the waterway to the Atlantic, they are comprised by the Rock of Gibraltar on one side and either one (or both) of a couple of not-insignificant hill tops on the other. Perfect stuff for ancient lore.

If Atlantis ever did exist, and if Plato was in possession of any handed-down knowledge of this mythical place, surely he didn't mix up this vital point! To place Atlantis in the Mediterranean, then, is surely wrong. Despite the evidence to the contrary.

As for the rest of his account? Well, it gets pretty weak, in my opinion. For starters, it mixes the Atlanteans and the Athenians in the same context as if they had been contemporaries and sounds more and more like allegory than a recounting of fact. And as for any measurements he mentions, including time.... well, I wouldn't be so bold as to presume. It's 2007 and we still can't agree worldwide on a system of measurement (ok, so the rest of the world is metric, but the US has never jumped fully aboard. ) Indeed, if this was all there was to his account I would be inclined to dismiss it as such and call it good. But that's not all the stuff this myth is made of.

Plato is said to have heard of the ancient civilization from some Egyptian priests. Now we're talking. Not to put down the Greeks, but did they build any pyramids? I think not. So coming from the Egyptians makes the possibility of Atlantis seem more real. At least to me. Plato may have simply bent the myth to match his audience... as any good storyteller might do. Can't blame him for that.

Ok, enough flap. Working on the presumption that Atlantis lies reasonably close to the Pillars of Hercules in the Atlantic ocean, I took a look at the prevailing currents. They flow south. Then I took a look at what is possibly a stronger factor, the prevailing winds... they flow north. Given that ancient mariners probably relied heavily on wind power (just a guess) I decided to look northward for any underwater features that would be: a) large in size, and b) shallow enough to have been exposed in the past.

I quickly noted the large, relatively shallow features between Iceland and Ireland that are known as the Rockall and the Hatton banks. Directly northward from these lie the Faeroe Isles and some other rather prominent underwater banks.

Obviously I'm not the first to notice these features, but there has been little written about them (at least that I could find) and how they may fit into the Atlantis myth. I'll be looking at them more closely later.