I'm still around

It’s been awhile.

I’m still working with my photography, with a big of ceramics here and there. I’ve spend a lot of time going through on-line Photoshop courses and building that skill set. It’s coming.

I’ve finished some prints that I really like. I’ll drop them in here over the coming days/weeks.

Actually I stopped writing because I lost the vision. I started getting caught up in how to make money with it – going commercial. The same thing that killed it off when I was doing it before.  There’s something in my head that tells me if I can’t make money at something it isn’t worth doing. That kills the creative drive – drives me in a direction I don’t really like. So I had to let that die. I would like to make enough cash doing it to help pay for it. But on my terms.

I’m actually struggling with the whole blogging thing. Is it worth the time? I write it and no body reads it – what is the value?

Why…

  • It helps me organize my thoughts, helps me internalize the process
  • It gives me a record of what I did and how I got there. Good to review
  • There’s the possibility that I could get some constructive input from like minded creatives, if I could make it interesting enough to give them a reason to share their time with me.

That’s good for a start.

I have to keep telling myself that this is a long term project – years, not months.

One exciting development – simple but exciting to me.

I was sitting in church a couple of weeks ago and had a vision of a portrait format I wanted to try out. But I’d need some strobes and a studio.

So I called the friend I’d sold my old stobes to a couple of years ago. I suspected at the time that she didn’t really want them that bad, but I sold them so cheap that she couldn’t pass them up. So I called her and asked if she would like to sell them back to me – and she did.  So I have my stobes back. They are old and probably needs a bit of service work, but they make light.

I learned a little bit more about my cool new Nikon D90. I was going to go buy a cable release. Luckily I actually looked at the camera first and noticed there isn’t anywhere to plug in the release cable. So I had to buy a remote release for it. Actually the price wasn’t bad, probably less than a good cable release would cost. Only thing I don’t like about it is you have to be in FRONT of the camera to use it. I can work around that.

Then I tried to sync my strobe to the camera – looked for the sync on the camera – there isn’t one. Back in my day there were just coming out with remote strobe triggers. I actually tried to make one – it kind of worked. It was light triggered. You plugged the sensor into the remote strobe and the light from the strobe on the camera set it off. It worked, but was never really usable. Now, I had to buy a radio trigger. Cool except more money. I checked out the PocketWizard and the Elinchrom Skyport. The PocketWizard sounded like the best long term choice, more powerful, more flexible and twice as much money. The Skyport is solid too. So I went with the Skyport. Going for the good product, easier entry point. If I need get more serious and need more umph I can move up to the PocketWizard. So far I really like it. Easy to use and flawless in during my first (and so far only) shoot this week end.

I pulled some neat shots. Need to put them together and I’ll share the result.

Repeat Attempt

I signed up on the Kelby Training on-line training site. So far its been a good investment in time and money. It is also why I haven’t posted for a while – I’ve been spending a lot of time absorbing.

But to make absorbing effective, it needs to be followed by some doing. I’ve started trying out some of the techniques and ideas I’ve learned.  I’m liking the results.

One of the first things I tried was a second wack at the tramp composite. The same day I shot the pictures of my daughter, I shot some of my son and his friend. While my 7 year old art critic rejected my effort, my son was more impressed. He asked if I would do one for him and being the good father that I am I obliged. It also gave me a chance to improve on my previous efforts.

Here’s the end result:

2009_0620_Adam_Tramp Composite

For the most part it was a repeat of the first try. My selections went a bit faster and cleaner. My shading went better. Overall it was a smoother effort. The primary difference was in the base image. On the first one I pulled up an image of the girls on the tramp and added other images around them. About halfway in I wanted to move them and couldn’t, because I hadn’t generated an image of just the tramp.

So on try #2 the first thing I did was generate an image of the tramp without participants.  I found two images where the jumpers were not overlapping. I stripped the jumpers from the base image. Then I did a Photomerge of the two images to align them. Then I dropped a layer mask on the second image and simply erased the hole away. It worked very nicely. I had a clean picture of the tramp and I was able to position the jumpers more easily.

A phrase worth some consideration

From David duChemin on his blog at: PixelatedImage.com

He discusses the question we often ask before we commit to an endeavor: ‘Am I good enough?

To often we forget to ask: ‘Do I love it enough?

It takes both. Maybe more of the second than the first.

He closes with the following:

Whatever the next step for you is, take it boldly. These are not times for the timid;
there’s no reward in tiptoeing through life only to make it safely to death.

Wow, in half a sentence he states what I’ve been trying to incorporate into my sense of being, into my way of living – to step up and LIVE life, not just exist.  To do – not just observe.

Some words about our subject

The artist who is only a painter may well become intimidated by his degree-bearing brethren. Under the charmed light of their MA’s, their PhD’s, their accumulated honors and designations, the scholars speak of art in terms of class and category, and under headings of which the artist may never have heard. While he himself may have read extensively about art – and I think that most artists do read a great deal about art, and know a great deal about it – while he may have looked at scores of paintings, have dwelt upon them and absorbed them, his interest has been a different one; he has absorbed visually, not verbally. The idea of classifying such work would never have occurred to him, because to him the work is unique; it exists in itself alone. It is its distinction from other art, not its commonality with other art, that interests him. If the work has no such distinction, if it does not stand alone, he has no reason for remembering it.

The Shape of Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 18

I have a young friend who, through most of  his high-school years, was given to writing poetry. He is now entering his junior year in the university. The other evening I asked him what sort of verse he had been writing, and whether I might read some of it. He replied, “Oh, I’ve stopped writing poetry.” Then he explained, “There’s so much that you have to know before you can write poetry. There are so many forms that you have to master first. Actually,” he said, “I just wrote because I liked to put things down. It didn’t amount to much; it was only free verse.”

Perhaps my young friend would never under any circumstances have become a good poet. Perhaps he should have had the drive and persistence to master those forms which have defeated him – I myself think he should. But I wonder whether it was made clear to him that all poetic forms have derived from practice; that in the very act of writing poetry he was, however crudely, beginning to create form. I wonder whether it was pointed out to him that form is an instrument, not a tyrant; that whatever measures, rhythms, rhymes, or groupings of sounds best suited his own expressive purpose could be turned to form – possibly just his own personal form, but form; and that it too might in time take its place in the awesome hierarchy of poetic devices

The Shape of Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 19

Scholarship is perhaps man’s most rewarding occupation, but that scholarship which dries up its own creative sources is a reductio ad absurdum, a contradiction of itself.

The Shape of  Content, by Ben Shahn, pg 19

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
— Erich Fromm

Artists of the Future

I’ve been telling people that my next career will be as a high school art teacher. I don’t know if that is where I’ll end up, but it does give me something to work toward that requires a broad range of skills and a solid understanding of the creative/artistic world. And I like to teach. I was a teacher’s aid in College and taught community ed photo classes for a bunch of years, among other things.  I really enjoyed that. I learn better when I have to review and organize the data well enough to teach others. I enjoy the give and take. And, though I’ll never admit it, I like the feeling of respect/admiration/look-up-to-it-ness that is available if you are a good teacher. And I’m pretty good.

And at the moment, I have 3 built in students I can teach, indoctrinate and expose to what I think is neat and fun – my kids.

R is 12 and we share altogether to many shared hang-ups. One of our basic challenges is the need to do everything, try everything. While she does well at everything she tries, she isn’t becoming amazing at any one thing. She doesn’t give any one thing a chance to really develop. She’s always been a pretty good with a pen, maybe just a little better than average, but she hasn’t spent a lot of time with it. This year she is taking art and doing well and really liking it. I’ve been impressed at moments of real creative thought. Maybe this one will catch her interest more than the half a dozen other things she’s got going on.

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This is from a quick sketch that she did years ago that I liked and stuck in a book and found a while ago.

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A few weeks ago her class had a contest where they had to design an environmental Google logo. I was impressed with what she came up with.

A is 9 and is naturally good at everything he does.  Art isn’t really his thing – he doesn’t sit down to do it for its sake. But when he is forced to sit quietly he’s pretty good with a pencil and paper and with a hunk of clay. He likes creating his ‘creatures’. Some day he plans on creating a comic book full of them. When ever he gets some clay he’s taking to sculpting them. He created an entire army of them:

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K is my dedicated artist. She spends hours drawing and coloring, cutting and pasting. When she was learning to write she came up with her own method of holding a pencil/pen with the tips of her fingers – looks stange but it gives her very tight control. From the beginning I was always amazed at her control and detail. Plus I just love to watch her do her thing.

K_Drawing

R started a pottery class where they learned how to make little pinch pot creatures. We’ve had two previous pinch pot lessons at home so all three of them know the concept. I had R teach us how to build the creatures. She is a natural teacher (she feels the need to be in charge and teaching provides that) and she did a good job. They all made their own creature and R made tounges for the other two and they all came out very fun. I like mine, but I’m a little jealous because I didn’t do a tounge – but my nose it cool. Did the Karl Malden thing. I’ll drop pictures in when we’ve painted and fired them.

They may never be artists, but at least they’ll have the opportunity that I never had to explore and see if they like it.

Plus I just like the natural sense of beauty that comes out of their young minds and fingers. It isn’t based on years of education and critical reviews. It just a natural effort that is fun and natural and pure. The gift of childhood.

24 hours a day – every day

 

As I re-initiate this journey I need to revitalize my focus. I need to start watching, seeking for those images that deserve to be captured, ideas that will inspire me. My first effort was to build a portable art packet. Pencils, pens, paper – everything I need to draw and write. Always with me, easy to get to. Problem is that I’m not comfortable with those mediums, so it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not comfortable enough with the method to easily capture the idea or image. The effort to capture gets in the way of the act.

A couple of weeks ago I started carrying my little camera around. It made a tiny rectangular bulge in my front left pocket – but I never pulled it out. It was available, easy to use, but not obvious.

Last week I started carrying my big camera with me. It’s in the way, kind of a hassle to haul around. I’m always conscious of it and I’m comfortable with it. It feels good in my hand – like it is supposed to be there. My hand forms around it, strokes it, knows it. It is easy to use, I understand it. I don’t have to think about using it. So when I see an image that I like it is a natural act to pull it out, swing it up and capture the shot.

And the result is I find myself watching, searching and finding. My awareness to the world around me is coming back. I’m seeing the shapes and colors around me that I’ve been walking by and ignoring. I’m searching my mind for ways to use images, ways to tell stories about what I’m seeing around me.

I enjoy the feeling again.

I read the following quote from ‘The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer’ by Jackson J. Benson that explores this idea. I don’t see this trait as specific to writers – I believe it applies to all creative types:

‘How does an author write a serious novel? Does he come up with some characters and a plot idea and start writing, using the stock phrases he has accumulated and throwing in a little description here and there? Does the felicitous sentence come by accident, do those small perceptions that so truly bring us into life come to him at the typewriter carried by the muse, and are those insights into the human condition at heart of his work evolved out of the sudden inspiration provided by an approaching deadline and the need to pay the gas bill? Not if the writer is Steinbeck and not, I suspect, for any other author of similar stature.’

‘It is rather simply a matter of living as a novelist twenty-four hours a day, every day, whether you happen to be writing a novel or not. Everything, EVERYTHING, is material, from your thoughts about your wife, your dreams and nightmares, to how your neighbor talks when he is embarrassed and how a friend looks at you when he wants something and what the local grocer does when he puts on his apron or makes change for a customer. Everything. Most of us could neither stand the burden or bear the exposure of privacy.’

‘The life of a novelist should probably really be a history of the constant gathering of bits and pieces of observation and insight, and the personal suffering and human concern which generates the pattern for the pieces and the need to express that pattern. For a novel such as East of Eden or The Winter of Our Discontent the novelist lives a preparation of years, accumulating hundreds, even thousands of small items. To describe the process from the outside is nearly impossible – even from the inside, as in the notebooks left by Henry James, it cannot be more than suggested.’

The creative muse is an always on effort. You aren’t creating art twenty four-hours a day – but you need to be an artist twenty-four hours a day.

My Career as a Model

 

Some people become models because they are beautiful, others because they have character. Some people are hand models or leg models because they are well endowed in that area. Some people become models because they achieve a unique notoriety that sets them apart from the rest of us. I became a model because I was either the only one in the studio or the last one on location without something to do.

During my internship in LA I had four instances where the end result was actually published.

The first one was as a hand and body model. Notice my well defined muscular body and my long delicately refined fingers.

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My next assignment was on location. Kind of a character thing. I wasn’t just playing a beautiful prop, there was emotion in this one. Kind of a harsh gritty moment that had just a touch of a wicked tension that made the piece come alive.

 

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I’m the one against the wall guarding the door with the machine gun.

 Note the steely determined and slightly mad glint in my eye.

 2009_0214_6265-edit

 

I was so amazing in my still work that my next two assignments were in video. I don’t have copies of either one, but I’ll try to describe them well enough to give you some impression of those two powerful moments on film.

The first was in a corporate promotion piece for a steel foundry in East LA. My boss decided to open the video with a metal dye being struck by a hammer, then pulled away to show the company’s logo.  I played the hands.  I was able to show my amazing range. My hands were broad and hard, the veins pulsing with raw energy, my muscles hard. It was breath taking.  At least I always imagined it was – I never saw the final piece.

I’ve never seen the last one either, but I’ve imagined it many times.  We shot the stills for an ad shoot for an Argentinean candy company staring Mr. T – complete with gold necklaces and attitude.  After the stills were done they shot the commercial. The opening shot was a pan across the stage to Mr. T. After a couple of takes they felt something was missing – they needed a special sort of pizzazz.  As they sought a solution, they noticed me just off camera watching and the solution was obvious. I stood stage right. The camera started stage left. As the camera panned right I walked left across that stage and for just the briefest of moments the power of my presence lit the camera and provided that missing magic.

Then I retired. 

It was a glorious career.

A taste of the beginning

I spent most of yesterday going through my files and boxes of pictures – a walk through my own personal photographic memory lane. I found a few old negatives. Just a few. I have a little book of negatives somewhere that I started saving after I ‘caught the bug’.  Didn’t find those.  I did find two that were interesting – and pretty bad when it comes right down to it.

I got my first camera for Christmas when I was 8 years old. A Kodak Instamatic.

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My first photo memory – I took a couple of pictures and wondered how it all worked. So I popped the back open to see what was going on in there. I was disappointed. Just this grey film stuff – no picture or anything. I think I only ruined at most 3 of the shots. The film for the Instamatic came in a cartridge so only a single frame of film was exposed at a time. 

I left the almost 40 years of accumulated dust on the camera for effect.

The first image I found doesn’t have any artistic merit – just a picture of my brother and sisters watching TV in the basement. Cement walls, old worn out couch. My brother’s knees sticking out of his jeans. I remember I used to hate jeans that didn’t have the knees ripped out.

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Notice the multi-colored floor scheme. My uncle owned a furniture store.  He gave us a bunch of carpet samples and we duct taped them to the floor. That was our carpet. We didn’t think of ourselves as poor – we were a middle class family. A very different middle class than today.

The other picture provides an early hint of my obsession/fascination with textures and old items with character.  The image is pretty bad, but it kind of feeds the theme.

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No special talent visible from these images. Just your basic kid with a camera. Most of the other negs weren’t even printable. But it was a beginning.

A few years later I was a boy scout working on my photography merit badge. To this day I vividly remember watching that image appear in the developer. It tickled my fancy for something magic. A magic I could do. It sparked the possibility of a future creating, not just working.  Something that I could do with my ‘limited’ creative abilities. Abilities which I doubted before I ever gave them a chance to develop.  But my self doubt was as effective as a true lack of abilities. But this photography thing, I could do that.

In 8th and 9th grade we had a school program. Half a day every Friday for 9 weeks we had courses in ‘fun’ things. Skiing, ice fishing, among other things – and photography. I found my dad’s old 35mm camera and started learning.

Right about that time 3 of us got together and started a camera club. I think we had one meeting. One of the guys gave a lesson on composition using the rule-of-thirds. It just clicked – seemed so simple.

I bought my first camera – a Nikon FM. I remember deciding between that and an Olympus OM. I picked the Nikon because I liked the view finder meter lights. I still have that camera. I still love that camera. I eventually got another FM, but that first one was always my favorite. I still love its feel in my hand.

My Sophomore year I was appointed the FFA Reporter. I spent the summer riding around taking pictures of all the FFA ‘projects’, cows, pigs, sheep, grain fields. The next two years I spent on the school annual staff, my second year as head photographer. I went to more dances with that camera than I did with girls.  I shot basketball, football, year book ads and thousands of candid shots.

Then off to college to learn the art and business of being a photographer.

My design courses were exhilarating, fun, disturbing. While I was learning the how, I was struggling with the why. I grew up in a working class family. My father worked every day, hard. Farming, driving truck, fixing cars, digging holes. Always something practical, something physically constructive. I worked my way through high school as a stock boy and farm hand. Always something that ‘meant’ something. Now I was looking at a life-time focusing on creativity, on an activity that I didn’t understand. What value did it have? I was really struggling with that. We were a family that did things – not a family that appreciated things. It seemed pointless.

A friend loaned me a book, ‘The Shape of Content’ by Ben Shahn. My first taste of philosophy and exposure to the value of art and design in our lives. I can’t remember any specifics, but I remember that after reading it I had a feeling for what I was trying to achieve. And it’s value.

In future posts I’ll hit a few more highlights of my trek. It won’t be comprehensive or even in order. But it will help define how I got to where I am now. So I can start again. I’ll also start dropping in technical bits that I’m re-learning, learning and polishing.