Monday, May 21, 2007

WYSIWYG and creativity

Huh? Is What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) and creativity a contradiction? Is street and documentary photography not creative, and other forms of photography artistic and creative?

I ask this for several reasons.

First, photographers seem to make distinctions between the various catagories of photography, often labelling street, documentary and other wysiwyg images as realistic and not artistic, and either too ordinary or mundane to be creative. Yet, we are absorbed by oldtime street photographs for the scenes, the people, the events, etc.

Second, I describe much of my photography as scenes of the ordinary or walking around photography because it's what it is. But is it creative? Most of my photographs, or images if you make the distinction between film and digital capture, are taken at my eye level, just what I see. I'm learning to lower myself or find higher places to photograph, and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't. But I'm learning.

And so the question, where is creative in photography, all forms, types, and catagories? Or do you make distinctions?

Is there creativity in just looking through the viewfinder and composing an image, in your eye, you mind and captured?

Personally, I'm captivated by street photography, the moment in time and space captured for all time. I prefer traditional street photography with film, for the history and the respect of the photographer who was there. We forget the technology that has made photography so easy, from the 1970's onward where we have less to think about with the exposure, such as the right aperture and shutter speed.

We forget that before light meters, photographers had to both compose and think. Could we do that now? Not without a lot of mistakes? How do you think they learned?

But back to the point. I occasionally do some studio photography, and it's always a challenge to me to see something I don't see. This form of creativity is similar to any artist who sees their work as an on-going physical and mental process with the work. And while I have occasional success, it's rare. And yet I keep looking at the work of other studio photographers and keep trying my own.

In the end, creativity to me is simply the human expression, which means all photography is creative, it's about what you see, capture and express about the world. That's enough for me and all we can ask.

JMO - The Iraq war

Ok, I"m going to wander into the fray about Iraq. But I'll wander there after listening to a NPR interview with soldier-poet Brian Turner. I haven't found his book yet, but I'm going and read his poems. He got me into thinking about three things about Iraq, which, hopefully, will make you think a little, because we don't have a good perspective on Iraq. Why?

First, we are the American public, sitting comfortably in our homes here in the US watching what little we can see of the war in Iraq, all edited by the military (restricting journalists access to the country and especially the dead and injuried), the White House and Congress (political rhetoric), and the media (to cover their proverbial public asses), and barely get the truth about the reality of the war and the damage done.

Second, the soldiers. There is no doubt in anyone's mind the reality they face and will have to face the rest of their lives. We owe them a lot for doing a job few of us like and many of us would fear (although I served 1969-73). While the places have changed, there is a lot of similarities between Vietnam and Iraq. The mixture of the country, people and the enemy. The loss of the ability to know who's who and who's not.

Thirdly, I was listening to a discussion on "To the Point" about Iraq and retired General Scales view of the US military to sustain operations in Iraq. He estimates that without a sudden large infusion of equipment and personnel, the Army and Marines will run out of both sometme in late 2008, and this includes the National Guard and Reserves.

His point is that about half the National Guard equipment is now in Iraq, damaged or destroyed. And somewhere between half and three-quarters of the troops have served at least once in Iraq. He states that without new troops, many of the active duty Army and Marines will have spent more time in Afghanistan and Iraq than home since the start of the war, and the rotation cycle will be shortened to where troops will only spend 6-9 months at home after 12-18 months in combat.

In short, we'll have decimated our Army and Marines to the point we couldn't sustain continued operations in Iraq let alone address additional global needs for the military. It's like take a cross country trip to realize you're running out of gas in Nebraska and you have no more money with the next gas station beyond the gas tank's range. You're stopped.

His point is that this makes the political discussion about Iraq irrelevant and winning the war moot. We'll have to face the reality that we have to leave or break the bank on the back of the taxpayers. Are we ready for that. And it will occur in the next President's term of office. George Bush will be gone to escape responsbility.

And lastly, and more importantly, the one group we have yet to understand, the simple Iraqi citizen. While all the news focuses on the war, fighting the "insurgents" or "terrorists", or whatever label you want to use, we don't see much of the ordinary people, the ones who's fled the country and the ones who remain. We don't understand the life we've given them, and that's my point.

We must understand what we have done to the ordinary life of the people. Not just the situation, but everything about their lives. Do we really know? And if we had to live under in the same situation and under the same circumstances, would we? Why do we always talk about the idea of Iraq but never about the people? Are we afraid of the reality? We've destroyed a nation for decades and changed one for generations?

Do we want to face that truth? And if we knew this in March 2003, would we have approved the war? And are there any real answers anymore to salvage something real in Iraq?

Black & White Film

With all the discussion of black and white in digital photography, and the seeminglly endless recommendation to shoot color and convert it to black and white in Photoshop using the various tools, we have forgotten the long proven, traditional black and white film. Granted you can't shoot film with a digital camera, but you can simply add a film body to many digital camera system because they share the same lens mount and operability.

Really? If you do the homework, all digital camera system grew from the company's film-based camera system. This was due to the newness of digital cameras and to gain acceptability in the market the company's had to make it a complimentary camera to an existing photographer's camera system. Simply buy and shoot digital, you have all the lenses. Most new digital cameras had a less than full size sensor and some rethinking was in order, but that was minimal as the same lenses worked on both cameras.

As digital cameras grew and surpassed film cameras, most new photographers simply didn't buy film cameras and became exclusively digital photographers. In the recent years though, some have found traditional film cameras to be a worthy addition to their digital cameras for a variety of reasons. And many photographers who grew of with film and simply continued to use both in varying proportions over the years.

Since I had a Minolta manual focus camera system, and it's unique lens mount from Minolta's AF and digital cameras - now labelled Sony cameras - I had no choice when I went digital. But after getting and using Canon's digital camera (5D, see my blog) I went back to film by adding a EOS-1N, and haven't regretted it. First because I have a choice of mediums to shoot and second because highend film cameras are selling at 50% of the price now, cheaper than many digital cameras.

Well, I grew up in photography with black and white, but mostly second to my color film work. I've never had the ease of printing black and white negatives at home and rarely had access to open labs. And printing through commercial labs was laborously slow as you printed, viewed and reprinted, beside costly for each print. So I more or less dropped it until Agfa's Scala black and white slide (transparency) film came along.

Scala had, and still has, a small and dedicated group of photographers, but Scala was part of the first cuts as film companies reduced the inventories and production. It's sad, but realistically a casuality of digital which can come close to replicating so well. It doesn't change the fact I buy it when I see it and have a refrigerator of 5+ bricks to use. I like the film, but have only found it hard to scan to replicate the actual slide.

Ok, I've wandered around the subject, but then all I really wanted to do was touch on it.

NPR - Personal Histograms

I wrote about histograms in photography. I'd like to explore our own personal histograms, both color and black and white. And I'm sure some of you are really going, "Huh? Why could anyone think of a person as a histogram?" Yes? No? It's not a poll, but just an thinking out loud observation. We run the gamut of emotions, feelings, and thoughts, so why not translate it to one of two, or both, histograms?

There are two histograms in photography, and actually more if you want to break color down into it's red, green, blue (RGB) components, or even it's complimentary colors of cyan, mageneta, yellow and black (CMYK), but I'll focus on the composite color, often called the "master" historgram. In addition there is a black and white histogram which breaks the image into the grayscale from black to white.

And these are the interesting part of personal histograms, we vary in our lifes just as a camera continuously captures images and produce individual color and grayscale histograms. Remember those colored buttons people suggested we wear to show other people we encounter how we're feeling that day? Why not extend that to the gamut of color and gray? It would expand how we are feeling with the full array of grayscale and the full spectrum of color.

We would wear little lapel histograms for the day. The day new age and new technology meet?


Histograms. Those things we have the hardest time learning and using. You can read almost any book on digital photography and photo editing about them. You can read many photography forums and newsgroups about them. And you can read almost every photographer's Website about them. But in the end, what do they really mean and do?

That's the rub, because all things considered, they don't do or mean anything, but simply inform. They remind of a story about a car driver who test drove the newest Rolls Royce. And taking it for a week drive around central California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to the Sierras south to Mt. Whitney, and return he reported the water temperature gage reported some high temperatures along with the first warning light.

He asked if something was wrong with the car. The dealer representative responded that it wasn't a problem, the car was simply telling you something, but nothing it couldn't handle. The car was fine and just advising the driver it was warm. The car has such a huge cooling system, it was thoroughly capable of the hot weather.

And that's what a histogram is for, it's simply there to let you know either the color range or grayscale of the image you captured. It doesn't do anything for or about the image. It's showing you what it is. It doesn't mean anything outside of telling you that and where you have saturated a color or shade of gray. It informs you to know what you did, to make any adjustments if you want.

I'm not discounting the value of histograms or implying they're useless, and you should learn what they are and can help you with your photography. But it's about not replacing your brain with technology. They're useful for what they do, show you what you're doing. It won't improve any image, that's a decision you have to make. It won't change an image, that's what you do in the photo editor and then use the histogram to advise you after the changes.

In the end, it's still about the image. If it does what you want then the histogram is just what it is and nothing more.

JMO - Lessor of evils

Listening to the news on the radio and television, reading the newspapers and magazines, and just watching the world, I'm beginning to wonder if we're at the point in many situations where the choices aren't the best for the situation or circumstances, but only the best among the lessor of evils. This seems to be pervasive across the many aspects of our life. And I can't help but see that all of these problems and lack of good answers or solutions were foreseeable.

And what and why you ask?

Iraq. It's a quagmire and we all know it now. You can discuss the lying by the White House ad naseum, but in the end the President manipulated and spun the truth into something that resembles the fanatasy they wanted us to believe. But all that said, what's the solution to the country? Are there really any good ones or just the lesser of evils which will minimize the damage than create anything positive?

Politics. Why is it that we trust what they say when they're no smarter or wiser than we are, they're just elected. An election doesn't suddenly make them smarter, but they have the staff to spin the truth as they want to identify and tell it. And we're stuck with the results. We are on the brink of losing our democracy where money wins anything and the public is out on the street holding signs. That's not entirely true, there are some good politicians and some good lobbying groups, but they're often to few and too small, respectively.

Economy. It's a global economy know. And it's clear after watching first Japan, then Taiwan, SE Asia, Korea, India, and now China, jobs are being exported at a rate unprecedented in our history. We're fastly becoming a service and consumer society where money is only going around and around except for the money in the trade deficit for products being imported. This is an exageration to some degree, but it's the direction we're heading and there doesn't appear a good solution for American workers, or not without some negative impacts.

Workers. What's the future for the American worker? As above, we're losing the better jobs, albeit some at a slower rate, but the reality is that the cost of living in the US is so high we can't afford to keep jobs here without losing employee benefits. We've been seeing this in corporate merger and acquistions where jobs are cut, exported or outsourced, wage cut or frozen, pension plans cut or eliminated, health insurance cut or reduced, and job security lost.

Immigration. And this is created part of the mess. With 12 million illegal immigrants and more legal immigrants, we're on the verge of creating a permanent lower class as they replace workers who have historically and traditionally been in those jobs, like the service industry, construction, farm workers (although these are the oldest immigrant working class), etc. Employers are electing to violate the law to hire them and existing citizens to avoid worker rights, benefits and wages.

Environment. It used to be 30+ years ago we talked about cleaning up things, and now we talk about acceptable levels of pollution and acceptable levels of endangered species. What happened? All the information was there which foretold what would happen, and it did happen. So now we have only ourselves to blame for not paying attention. And what have we done to the future of this planet and our children.

Youth. We're growing up younger and with so much communication about the world our children are losing their youth. I am saddened that kids can't be kids anymore, and they're pushed so young into the world that they can't assimilate it as the brain is developing. It's hard for them to grasp the issues and choices when they're not fully developed to know how to think, but have to anyway. While many do grow up ok, how many don't?

Old age. I fear for the elderly as many are being abandoned by our society. The cost of supporting them is increasing and the baby boom generation is just beginning. The cost will hinder the younger generations and their ability to do more and better, they'll simply have to pay the bills of the older generations. And if they decide it's not fair or right? They will eventually be in power to decide and act. What have we taught them about respect?

I could go on with other subjects or topics in our world, but it's only the continuing tale where our choices are getting fewer and fewer and less and less for the better than reducing the worst. We're sleeping in our own planet and we have to face the reality we haven't made it very well of late. So when do we run out of choices on any issue and our worst nightmare is realized?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

JMO - Guns

Ok, this is supposedly a fundamental right in this country, if you interpret the Constitution as some say do. And honestly, is that really true? Or are we forgetting it was written in the 1770's when we didn't have a military and guns were necessary for many people to survive in their life and work? Isn't it time we got real about guns?

And while you're cringing that I'm a gun-hating liberal, I'm not, but I'm also not a NRA member either. I served in the military and had to learn to use and shoot a M-16 rifle. And my brother and I hunted jack rabbits in the southern Idaho desert when we lived in Mountain Home, Idaho. I've shot rifles over the years with friends too. So, while I don't own any guns or plan to for personal reasons, I think we need some common sense here.

First, it's clear there are far too many guns here. There are more guns than adults in this country, so for every adult who doesn't have one, and there are many if not the majority of adults, there are some with lots of guns along with many who aren't supposed to have them or shouldn't have them. Really? And how many guns is enough?

Well, why is it that most of the domestic violence involves serious injury or death from guns? It's just the people? Sorry, give me a break here, it's about the guns and their use that excerbates the situation. And why is it that many criminal organizations have more and greater firepower than the police and agencies responsbile for our safety? You don't think so?

A few years ago a Washington State trooper tried to stop a car on Interstate 5 when it sped away at speeds over 100 mph. When several other troopers managed to get the car off the road near Olympia, a fire fight ensued which last nearly an hour before both people in the car were killed. In the car they found more firepower than the troopers shooting at them, and in the trunk they found more firepower than all the State Patrol on-duty arsenal throughout the State!

The gun runners were heading to LA, and they estimated they only caught about a tenth of the guns going down Interstate 5. That's scary, I mean really scary the gangs could over power the people protecting us. And if they had decided to do something here? Where's the limit to what acceptable? Another story to bring home the point?

In Seattle a young man was pulled over on Interstate 5 in Seattle but fled on foot into the neighboring homes. He went from home to home to escape and find money. He injured people in several homes before police found him in one home. What they didn't know was the man broke into the home of a serious gun collector. He had more firepower than the police outside, and the man wanted to shoot it out with the police. If only the police had known the arsenal the guy in the house owned to know the danger of the young man.

The issue to me is that it's time to be reasonable and find a solution to guns. It requires a lot of give on both sides, but it's time we acknowledge the Constitution does not guarrantee the right to own guns. It's about the other people, all of us who have been or could be victims of violence with guns. Tell the people of Virginia Tech about freedom to own guns. The kid who shot all those people legally purchased and owned the guns.

Ok, enough of the scare tactics. My opinion? First, I don't have a problem with gun registration, for every gun anyone wants to legally own. After all, you've insured them and likely you and someone else has an inventory. What's work with being a good citizen and sharing it with the local, state and federal agencies who have all sorts of other information on us? So adding someone's guns and ammunition is a problem?

I don't have a problem with licensing everyone who wants to own or owns a gun. We're licensed in almost everything we do in life that threatens public safety, so why not guns? What's the harm to prove you're trustworthy to own and use guns safely? What is any gun owner afraid of proving or sharing? What happened to our right to know you are responsible?

It's not about privacy and rights anymore as security and public safety. That's the risks guns pose to everyone else. It's about a national view of freedom from violence and protection from assault from people with guns. We're a civilized society and nation, and it's time we acted like one. It's time gun owners stepped into the spotlight and be seen and known as your car, home, work, etc.

Well, that's my view, and the last I'll say about it.

JMO - Immigration

I haven't read much about the new Immigration Bill in Congress, I'll watch to see what happens in the House and the conference between the Senate and the House, and then presented to the President. We all have opinions on immigration, from the extreme position of those wanting all illegal immigrants arrested and deported to those wanting amnesty to all illegal immigrant residing the country, working or not. And the hardest position is in between finding something that will work, but the reality is that with 12 million illegal immigrants, there is no real solution.

The middle is a no-win situation, but it's the best for the longterm solution of this country, and that's the thing we must remember, it's about this nation and its people. And before I spout my opinion which will be the last time anywhere, I need to provide some background so you know where I came from, since we're all immigrants, including Native Americans. They only predated Europeans by a few thousand years, but they're really a mixture of Asian and South Pacific ancestry, but mostly the former.

Three of my grandparents were first generation immigrants. On my father's side, his parents came from England around 1910, he first to establish a home and business in Valley Falls, Kansas, and then sending home for his wife. They spent their entire life there in that home and town, rarely leaving. My mother's father came from Germany around 1908 to join the US Army and go back to fight the Kaiser in World War I. He was that angry with events there.

After the war he settled in southern Idaho, eventually becoming the Postmaster for Boise, Idaho. Before that he married a young socialite girl from Soda Springs, Idaho, the daughter of a prominent farming family there. The married and spent their entire life there in one home. My maternal grandmother can trace her history back to the 1840's when her family (Shufeldt) emigrated from Germany to Ohio and then Idaho to become dry-land potato farmers.

So that's my history. And here I sit, half German and half English, second generation American. So in a way I do have a say on the immigration debate, just like every American has one. And notice I say American, because it's about being a citizen and our Constitution. And thus I have two views, my deeply held personal one and my public one. I'll give you the latter since it's about what's best for everyone. But first a preface.

The issue of immigration is about two things. What's illegal and the front door. Before any discussion can begin I have to preface with the fact I refer to illegal immigrants, not legal immigrants. Big difference. Illegal is illegal, no matter how you define it, it's still as Lou Dobbs says, it's about being illegally in this country. I don't have any problems with legal immigrants because it's about the front door.

And that's my major issue in the immigration debate. It's about the front door, the legal avenues to come into this country and become a citizen, or if that's not your interest, a visitor for various reasons. And the solution isn't simple with 12 million illegal immigrants and millions others overstaying or misusing visas. And that's the conundrum. Any solution is expensive and hurts a lot of people.

My personal view is the unfortunate truth that throughout our history we've had a front door to immigrate to this country. It's still good and works, and something we should return to with enforcement by the federal agencies. And until the 1980's we've had an open border with Canada and Mexico, and while we can return to those day, it's time we enforced the border. The trouble of the US-Mexico border is overwhelming, but unless we gain control of it, we will never win.

But I'll take a different turn to say the real answer doesn't lie here, although we can do a better job of enforcing the laws on illegal immigrants, but with the home countries of the immigrants. We need to make coming here the lessor of evils, which means making other countries better economically and socially. Lose the incentive to come here by making the incentive to stay there. I've rarely seen that solution enter the discussion.

If the money had been spent on international aid and promoting the improvements in other Western Hemisphere countries, not just overthrowing governments, what would be different. Why not ask for them to improve their countries and we'll consider aid and not discriminate against immigrants from their country? Just thinking out loud, but it's time we had some serious talks with Mexico and not just about cheap labor and no environmental protections for industry to pollute their country.

Anyway, before we get into the mechanics of what to do with all these people, I think we need to address the root problems of immigration too, why they come here. It's a push-pull thing. We have here and they don't have there. Let's solve that first along with border security, and then address those living here with humane answers than political garbage that we know won't work and only excerbate the issue.

And I'll add that maybe this isn't a problem we can solve in one sweep of legislation but in increments. Many experts espouse this view but Congress and politicians don't because it can't be easily sold or agreed to with what's the priorities to start with on legislation. That to me is easy.

First, secure the border. You don't need a fence but good enforcement with people and other means than a physical border. Second, it's about employers who employee illegal immigrants, denying them rights and denying other immigrants and American from jobs. Third, it's about defining a process to citizenship, starting with the home countries. And lastly, it's about finding ways to bring those here into the light with honor.

To do this we have to also clean up and secure all our laws and agencies. We need to get everyone on the same page, from local communities and states to the federal agencies. We need to agree who's to do what and when, and make the federal agencies do their job with illegal immigrants. And Congress needs to find some of that Iraq money for these agencies for people, resources, and security.

What are the alternatives? Arguing while more come? Pass bad laws no one likes? Or find real answers? Do we want to face this again in 2015 when there are 25 million illegal immigrants?

NPR - Don't look back

We all know the words of Satchel Page, "Don't look back, something may be gaining on you." Well, it's what I do with my photography and writing. I try to live and work, and produce results, hopefully, where I don't have to look back about something. It's not really true, I'm like everyone and look back more often than I want, with regret, sadness, happiness, understanding, and all the rest of our emotions we look back with.

In fact, I look back every birthday. It's my routine review of the last year to see if I made my goals. I don't make New Year's resolutions, but birthday resolutions. Every birthday I assess where I'm at and where I would like to be by my next birthday. I don't see big goals, those I save for the big decisions in life throughout my life. I try to make my goals achieveable and manageable, but really the goal is simply to be a better person, the rest just happens.

But my point is that I try to say something that I can read down the road, and either say I still agree with it or say it's what I was thinking at the time. And while my views change over time, much of what I write stands my test of time, and the rest is that, something I said, and may say differently today but the point was there which I agree with. And yes, there are those times, I read something and, as the adage goes, "What the f..k was I thinking?" Hopefully with a smile and generally with a note of apology for my misunderstanding.

Photography, however, is different. You can't change what you did, the image is there in front of you. The best you can do is either make it better or learn from it to do better the next time. Since I like to take images I see and minimize the post-processing, I generally try to understand what went wrong and look for any trends in my work that I should focus on to be better. But that's the neat thing about photography, there's always something new to photograph, something to do to be better. All it takes is your camera and yourself.

In some ways that's also my problem, not looking back, but then, as I said, sometimes I do. Since I bought my computer system for photography work, I'm slowly going back through all my slides to find ones to scan for cards or the Web. It's sometimes amazing what time will do. I know whenever I get film back from the lab I just put the boxes on the light table for a few days. And often after downloading new digital images, I do a quick review for the obvious mistakes, but usually let them sit for a few days too.

After a few days, I'm usually more objective with the images, or at least I think I am, and I find I tend to find more I like and feel better about the mistakes. I can almost find where I went wrong, something I wasn't thinking or doing, and sometimes I just wasn't really being a photographer but a picture snapper. In some ways that's why I started in large format photography. You have to plug in your brain or get really bad results. There's little in the middle, especially with some film where they have a narrow latitude.

Anyway, what does it have to do with Satchel Page? I don't know, except it's about looking forward and keep focused on the road ahead, but don't forget your personal map and history.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NPR - Two thoughts

I watched the recent rerun of the two hour interview on "Inside the Actors Studio" on the Bravo Channel with Robin Williams. If you get a chance to watch it, please do, it's great and outragous. He's funny, honest and witty. But in the course of the conversation with James Lipton, two thoughts occurred to me.

First, get out of yourself. Robin went to the Julliard School and talked about his time there, all the training and teachers. He said it's all about getting out of yourself, letting yourself go of your physical and mental self, and be free to express what you want, think, or just feel. It's about the freedom of yourself in yourself.

Second, make mistakes. I was listening to an interview one day when the interviewee asked, "Where can you say someone who spent a 20-plus career and made mistakes more than two-thirds of time, and be considered great?" And the the answer is baseball. It only takes a 30% (.300) successful rate in hitting to make the Hall of fame. It helps to be a good fielder, but hitting took a lot of players to the Hall.

Also, what activity sends someone on assignment to get 20-30,000 images to reduce those to 30 then to 8-12 for the article? National Geographic magazine. They send photographers on assignment with 800-1,000 rolls of film (they only recently went digital) with the expectation of about 30 winners and 8-12 great ones for article(s). It's why the photographers work hard and have the philosophy to bring home the "winners." With film you didn't know so didn't miss an opportunity.

These thoughts apply to both life and photography. It does apply to work, but since I retired once and am starting a new career, work doesn't interest me anymore. Anyway, while we like being and doing, as they say, within our comfort zone, it pays to push your limits and even step outside yourself. It does several things.

First, it pushes your limits and comfort zone, it expands it in new direction and into new territory where you didn't know you could be and do. Second, it develops more self-awareness and confidence with your ability to be and do, and it's display more of you innate talent. Third, it expands your world to others. While we all love the process and work of our creativeness, it's also good to see and know where it fits in the world and what others think, hopefully good or positive.

The second part of this is that you have to keep trying, and while not always succeding isn't all that positive to many, some find it rewarding and some even realize its potential and power. I'm one of those who learns far more from mistakes than successes. I don't often see success as all that rewarding, because once I've written something or produced a good photograph, I often shrug and move on to new things.

Part of my nature is to focus on what's not being done or what's not finished. It's my nature from as long as I can remember, but it's also somewhat negative since I rarely stop to appreciate what's I done, especially when it's good. And I've found that what I find good isn't what others find good. I've noticed this with photo cards. Most of the one others like I don't see what is it that I've done.

And that's the reason to keep going, you never know what's outside your mental door unless you open it and walk into the wilderness.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Black and white revisited

Images not readded.

Ok, a towel is a towel is a towel, but not really. Huh? This photo was an exercise in white, but it got me into rethinking black and white images as I was scanning the roll of black and white negative film (Agfapan 400). I talked about one view I have about black and white images. This is a followup on that view but more about film versus digital.

There are arguments here? Oh, yeah, it's the film versus digital debate, and the digitized film versus digital debate. It's about those pesky bits computer use, which require 16-bits numbers. Digital cameras are 12-bit images and convert the 12-bits into a 16-bit number the computers can handle. It's not a 12-to-16 conversion but a 12-bit value converted to a 16-bit value. Sorta' a pseudo 16-bit number.

But when you scan a film image you have a choice of 8-bit or 16-bit images. Since most applications use 8-bits, only higher end printing and publications use 16-bit images, sometimes you can scan and work with 8-bit images with little discernable loss in the final images. Some argue against this, and most of their points are correct for some images and applications. You do lose some color range, but it doesn't hurt in many images for size and color.

The key here is that you can scan at a true 16-bit range, so instead of getting only 4,096 values with 12 bits, you get 65,536 values, or a 16 times greater range, whether it's color or grayscale. That's a bunch of bits, a lot of gray in the grayscale or color between colors. And that's the argument for digitized film images.

And this makes film better? Not really because to balance that argument you have to account for the resolution of the film versus the digital capture. In general, about 8 megapixel sensor is comparable to most 100 ASA films, most being consumer or prosumer film where some professional films have a higher resolution (grain) and would require higher sensors to match the resolution.

Where this issue is often debated is when digital images are "improved" from their original resolution using the tools most photo editing software packages have. This was demonstrated recently with the New York Times produces some 11x14 prints from consumer digital cameras, professional digital cameras and film cameras. They showed the final prints had very little difference.

The difference, however, was in the original image from the camera (digital or film). The film and professional digital camera had several times more detail in the original, and required less work to make it a good print. The consumer camera's image made up for the detail in the photo editor creating the detail from the existing information. In short, it was less real, but not that you could tell.

But back to the argument of this essay, I just wanted to note there's other arguments in the film versus digital debate, and this is one I thought was interesting. A towel isn't always just a towel. It depends on how it's recorded and processed.

NPR - Slow road to somewhere

Several years ago, before I retired and thinking about the road to a new life and career, I read the book Working Identity by Herminia Ibara. It's an outstanding book about making life and career changes. It was initially written for people in the middle of their careers, the focus of her research, but it also works for changes later in life and in retirement.

One of the goals of the book is not to subscribe to a pre-arranged plan for your change, but follow the opportunities that are presented to you and be open to changes that happen when they come along. It's a balance between creating opportunities, finding them and having them find you. Sometimes something leads to something else you didn't anticipate or considered, but turns into the real deal. In short you never know.

Another goals is to follow your heart to love what you want to do. This also is a balance between work you love and work that has some interest. The latter may be work which fills in until something better comes along, work which teaches you new skills, work which may lead to something else, or some other reason. Sometimes the work you love isn't there or takes time to get going, and you have to decide among the choices in front of you.

And how does this apply to me at this time? Well, my photography is on the slow road to somewhere. It's a personal evolution in learning in two ways. The first is that up until last year I used a Minolta manual focus system for 37 years, at which time I bought a Canon 5D camera system and a 4x5 camera system.

The second is my computer system to process, produce and print images for photo cards and prints. Learning to produce images (w/ Photoshop and other software packages) and printing images takes time and lots of work to understand the process. All my printing experience before this was using traditional darkroom techniques. I'm now producing my own prints for cards, but not without a lot of mistakes typical with me.

I've talked about the timeframe my photography is taking in previous post, mostly giving myself 5-7 years to get the photography and business sides working producing marketable images, if not already selling some. Since I just started the second year, it's a slow road to somewhere.

NPR- Being Realistic

Wishful thinking. We all do that. It's the reality of being human, wishing and hoping for the best in some situation, work, or something important to us. It's a vital part of our existence, knowing that there is always something better than the current situation or that things can and may get better. If we only wished or had hope?

When we embark on something that will take a long time, such as years, take a lot of mental and physical energy, and require a significant financial investment, we like to think we will know the end. We can think through all the scenarios to some reasonable conclusion to anticipate any potential problems or hurdles. We can then think through the solutions. And in the end of our initial thinking, we can see what we think is the outcome.

Or so we can hope. Such is wishful thinking. At the start of anything it's always wishful thinking and hope. It's all we got to feel in our heart it's right, and it's all we got in to know it's right. Sometimes, however, we lose sight of that and lose sight of being realistic as things change. And sometimes, it's our downfall. While we can find reasons why something didn't go right or turn out right, it was only because we weren't realistic.

We let our hope and wishful thinking override reality. People who are consistently optimistic consistently ignore reality, and let our hope continually see what isn't there. Some say that's good, but it's not, and not realistic. These people often either become discouraged, hateful, angry or depressed when faced with the reality of their life and situation.

On the other hand people with Dysthymia consistently see things on the slightly to moderately negative side. Studies have shown we often see things too realistically, meaning we look to much at the larger picture of our life or situation, and take wishful thinking as just that, and not achieveable. At best, we expect to get something toward our goal and at worst, fail. We often take pride in our judgement that it was realistic.

And that's our downfall.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

NPR - The why and being one

Friday, May 11, 2007, I did one of my trips to Seattle, to the places only Seattle has. I keep a two ziplock bags with printed pages, newspaper clippings, postit notes with lists, and ads for the things I want to find and the places I want to go. One bag holds all the books and music stuff and the other holds the rest of the things and places. I add other bags, one for the photography stuff I want or need and one for computer stuff. It's my controlled chaos management, or as a taxonomist might call, being a lumper.

Anyway, instead of driving all the way around through Tacoma and up Interstate 5 to Seattle, sometimes I like to go to Bremerton and take the ferry across the Puget sound. It's a 30 minute drive and an hour ride as opposed to an hour or more drive depending on traffic. You can catch the photos I take on the rides here - see "WSF" galleries, that is until a recent trip where I was stopped and questioned.

This trip, however, after reading the newspapers, I walked around and ended up near the bow of the boat. They keep a line across the bow to keep passengers about 6 feet away, but you can stand there and feel the breeze in your face, hear the sound of the waves under the bow, watch downtown Seattle in the distance. It's fun to just stand there, close your eyes and let your other senses feel your presence. There in that space and time.

And you can just open your eyes to the whole of what's going on. The planes flying in and out of Sea-Tac Airport, the other boats and ships on the Puget Sound, and the flow of cars and people in downtown Seattle. It's about just being one of many in the whole flow of life and events in one city on the Earth. Being one of six and half billion people. Just one person. And it makes me wonder about life and why, just being one.

It's interesting to watch people on ferries. They're so absorbed in their life with family and friends, leisure and work, events and places, and everything else going on. They forget they're just one. One of many. Do they, or you for that matter, stop for a few minutes and stand there, quietly feeling the whole of the moment? Wondering why?

Well, this trip I stood there on near the bow for the moment the ferry cleared the inlet into Bremerton into the open water of the Sound directly to Seattle until the voice on the intercom announced the arrival to get people back in their cars, about 30 minutes. I got back into my van, waited, disembarked and went on with my day.

Some time you might want to just stand in your space and know you are there.

NPR - Random chance

Life is random chance. Huh? It's been my philosophy that we born with what we have and we can only make the best of what we're given and the opportunities life presents to us. After that, it's simply random chance how things go. Some events may be the result of synchronicity where small things fall into place and we get lucky. Some events may be from hard work, or so we think, but without some luck and chance, it wouldn't happen.

And this include life itself, and the opposite, death. Why? Well, there as an article in Sunday's (5/13/2007) Tacoma News Tribune about a truck that lost two wheels off one axle. The set of tires, travelling 60 mph, bounced over the median on Interstate 5 south of Seattle and into a van going the other way. The tires went through the the windshield killing the passenger instantly and serious injuring two other passengers in the van.

I remember a similar incident living in Phoenix where a tractor trailor lost a rear tire. It first bounced over the median, then bounced several times in the other lanes of rush hour traffic, finally striking a VW bug in the middle lane, killing the driver instantly. Another instance occurred recently here on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge where a gasoline tanker truck tried to stop to avoid hitting some cars stopped for traffic. To avoid hitting a lane of cars ahead of the truck, it veered into the oncoming lanes.

Unfortunately while driving against traffic it ran over a small Chevrolet sedan with all its left side tires down the center of the car, literally squashing it flat, which caused the tanker to flip over on its side into other oncoming cars. Fortunately it didn't catch fire. They said the driver of the sedan was completely squashed into the car itself. The tallest part was the tires (I was a minute behind caught in the traffic jam waiting). What do you say to the family of the driver of the sedan?

The last example was from Scottsdale. A young couple was coming home from one of their parents home late one Saturday. They were engaged to be married in about a month when both graduated from college. They were driving home, he was following her about a few hundred feet in his car to ensure she got home safely. On a stretch of wide, divided four lane avenue two other cars from the other direction were racing, a Chevy Corvette and a car they never found.

While coming out of a wide corner at over 100 mph the Corvette hit a rise and got airborne. It jumped the median and slammed head-on into the young woman's car. It pushed it backwards across the road, up a bank, through a cinderblock fence, into a backyard. All right in front of the young man. The other car sped away. Her small compact car was crushed into about a quarter of its length.

With all the deaths in the world, why these as example? They just reside in the corner of my memory to remind when I'm driving. You don't know about all the vehicles and drivers around you. Every time I get home from a trip I thank God I got home, and long trips, I thank "Spirit", my van, for getting me home without breaking on the way (has quit 3 times in 16 years).

So, life isn't just what you think, it's the luck of the draw to get through it doing what you want to do.

Writing in the dark

If you don't read the New York Times, you're missing some great journalism and a diverse view of the world. And I would argue if you have to read just one issue per week, read the Sunday New York Times, especially their Sunday Magazine. This last Sunday (May 13, 2007) there is a great article by David Grossman, "Writing in the Dark." It's worth your time to read is in a quiet place to think about the ideas.

While I'm not familar with David Grossman's work over his career or his political views over his life, I found this article extremely interesing, enlightening, and insightful about life and work. And while he writes about writing and being a writer, his words can be translated to many professionals and life endeavors that are the creative expression of the individual, such as photography. And his writing style is fascinating to read and real out loud.

The article talks about the idea of Kafka's tale "A Little Fable", in which a mouse is caught between a mouse trap closing in on him and a cat looming behind him, and says, "Alas,... the world is growing narrower every day."

The writer writes about writing, why writers write, to keep the world from getting narrower every day. But it applies to any creative endeavor, you do it to keep the world from shrinking around you. I photograph to stay connected to the larger world and express my view of it. I'm not a professional photographer, and in some respects barely a serious one, I enjoy it for both the pleasure of the work and the reward of the results.

But mostly I photograph to be in the world. Whether it's in my home studio, hiking trails in Mt. Rainier NP, walking around downtowns, at local events, or just going about life, I photograph to stay alive, and like the mouse, to keep the world from becoming narrower every day. I also read 4-6 newspapers about 4-5 days a week to see the world. In that reading, I learn about the diversity of people, places, and events to know I'm one of many in the world.

I also listen to NPR 2-4 hours a day when I'm home, and listen to a variety of other radio stations but mostly classical and blues music, but also world, rock, and folk music. If music written 2 or 3, even 4 or more centuries ago can still touch the soul, I can listen to hear why. And if there is one form of music unique to the human spirit, it's hard to argue with blues as the music of choice.

And when I'm out in the world, I also find ways to buy things from people. I don't use an ATM or other solo interactions. I engage people, and always ask them, "How are you doing today?" And when I go I say, "Have a nice day." Overly courteous? Maybe, but engaging people keeps the world large, and not narrowering where and when I'm standing there wondering where everyone went.

All this requires effort every day to keep the world from getting narrower every day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

NPR - Norms I

I was thinking the other day about social norms. We assume they apply to everyone, but we are totally mistaken. If you ever travelled outside the US or lived aboard for some time, you understand social norms vary with the country, society and culture. We mistake social norms for human norms. And why the thought?

Well, for one I'm a fringe person. Years ago we had a boss who loved Total Quality Management (TQM) when it was a fad by many in senior management, and the USGS decided to implement it. They chose several State Offices to test it. They had to test it in several small to large offices because the USGS is historically a traditional and conservative agency with a very hierarchial management system. Despite what people think of it as a great scientific agency, it's a very top-down management agency for policy and politics, which results in mid- and lower level manager wielding a lot of power.

Anyway, TQM is where you work in teams and come to concensus decisions in support of management's decision. The problem is that it automatically creates conflicts between the employee teams and management. While managers love to make decisions whether or not they or their decisions are liked or accepted by the staff, TQM mandates the teams have some input and authority with managers and in those decisions. A good TQM manager will take the team's results into their decisions.

That said, the first thing TQM training requires is individual appraisals. You see the concept looks at employees as concentric circles, the small inner circle of trusted advisors, the larger circle of staff, and the thin outer ring of fringe people. The middle circle of staff are the employees who generally go along with rules and abide by decisions. They make excellent "team" employees. But they lack one essential part of TQM.

The fringe employees (usually about 5% of the staff) are the ones who question authority, ask the reasons about decisions, raise hands in meetings with questions, and more importantly, are the innovators of an organization. The fringe people are the ones where most often new ideas and directions arise because they don't feel constrained by rules and policies. And the rarely play office politics.

Well, this isn't saying that all fringe people are good, some are just curmudgeons or anarchists, but that's another story. The TQM trainers showed most advances from an organization come from the fringe, and when accepted by the inner circle becomes accepted by the middle (go-along) circle. In short the fringe aren't the social norms but the human norms, being innovative and creative as individuals.

And as the situation would have it, I'm a fringe person. And why I always had problems with authority, but that's also another story. It's also why I gave up giving ideas to management. They would either be ignored, while the private sector blew by the USGS in the same endeavors, or transferred to team people to develop into marketable projects. Some fringe employees were accepted by management because they played better politics or were "scientists" PhD's with credentials. Me, I was just a staff technical manager who cared more about our public service than our science.

Anyway, it showed me that being a fringe person, outside the work norms had it benefits and problems. It's where I spent most of my career, when I got in to middle management and technical support. I broke out of my staff identity into a fringe person. The USGS Website in Washington wouldn't be as popular (number one among State Offices) without my fringe thinking (most of which was adapted from the private sector Web pages.

And I left the USGS with a list of ideas to improve their products to the public, but that's another story too. And I'll stay a fringe person throughout my life. It's more fun.

Monday, May 7, 2007

NPR - Common Sense

I carry several dollar coins in my pocket, including these two. These were a gift from my maternal grandmother over 30 years ago. I never really knew my maternal grandfather, he died in the early 1950's, so I only know him from stories. This saddens me as I would have like to have spoken with him about his life. Like many people with an interesting life, they die taking their experience with them. And why with him?

Well, three of my grandparents were immigrants from Europe about 1910. Granddad Miller was German, who's name originally was Muller. He came over to the US to join the US Army and go back to fight the Kaiser. After the war he ended up in Boise, Idaho, working in the Post Office, and eventually rose the to position of Chief Postmaster for Boise. During his time, he met and married a young socialite from Soda Springs, and built a home and a family.

From some reason, which no one ever explained why he carried these two silver dollars in his pocket. I can only surmise the 1881 dollar was one of the first he got after coming to the US, and the second is a guess since it's dated 1925. There was nothing important that I could find in my grandparent's life that year, but I'm sure it had some relevance to his life. I'll never know.

Anyway, my grandmother kept them until the early 1970's when she walked up to me, put them in my hand, and said, "He carried these as long as I can remember, until his death. Now it's your turn to carry them." Well, I've carried them for years, put them away for years, and about 5 years ago started carrying them again. They're a great conversation piece, you know when someone asks if you have change and you put all your coins on the table, out pops two large, well-worn silver dollars.

And I love carrying them to feel a real coins. I also carry a 1974 Eisenhower dollar along with the first coin I got of the last three US dollar coins.

Somehow, they just don't compare. They're too easy to confuse with quarters and lose to machines which now take them. So to prevent that I don't carry other new dollars and always take all the coins out of my pocket and put the six dollar coins back in, leaving everything else in my hand.

Sometimes, it's just smart to carry common sense in your pocket. And I'll never confuse the real silver dollars and the history of those who held them with other coins.

NPR- Retirement

I've written more than enough about why I like retirement, simply put it's about time and freedom. You can't find enough reasons to argue against having the time and freedom to do what you want, within the money you have. But I found a book in my bookcase I bought several years ago and forgot about. It's Mihaly Csikzentmihaly's book "Finding Flow." So I'm getting around to reading it.

I can't say much beyond that so far except one remark he makes in the first chapter is very interesting. It's about the old phrase, "time is money", but he turns it around to say it's about the money to have the time. It's the same argument the financial management service companies make in their ads about managing your money to have it for the things you want in life when you retire. Those ads, unfortunately, are for the upper middle and richer class of people, which is almost meaningless to those with less money, like me.

A year before I retired I attended a two day retirement preparation workshop for federal employees within 3-5 years of retirement. It's an excellent workshop to cover all the bases about the decision to retire, and the paperwork process to retire. One of the sessions is about money management, and a financial advisor talks about your retirement annuity and Thrift Saving Plan (TSP - employees personal savings account). It was probably the worst session for one reason, but it was good to help make decision about your TSP.

What was funny was the advisor talked about rolling your money into IRA or other investment portfolios. He kept talking about how you can "make" money in retirement in these plans. And slowly everyone's brain began to fog over. But something wasn't right with his advise, so I asked him what level of money does he usually deal with for his clients. He responded, "Usually it's into the six figures." So I asked everyone in the session, "How many of you have over $100K in their TSP?"

No one raised their hand, so I turned back to him and said, "Well, if I calculate it right, only about the top 5% of federal employees make enough to save $100K in their TSP during their careers. So why should we listen to you if you can't provide us with good advise about our TSP's?" He couldn't answser, and the workshop coordinator later said he was a last minute fill-in, someone with little experience in federal employee retirement plans.

Well, that's off track, but it's about perspective. And that's what I'm doing now. I gave myself 2-3 years to focus on my photography and added something else I'm doing along the way. But the focus is on photography, to get my computer system, camera systems, and work on the portfolio while learning all the new technology to process and produce all my images in-house. I don't develop my own film anymore, but it's about the rest, from camera to Web or print.

Well, now into my second year, it's hard to know where I am, and it may be 3-5 years before I'm really up to speed. You see I like take my time, even take time away from it for short periods when life intercedes, as it often does along the road anywhere you go these days, and I like to enjoy the process, often reviewing what I'm doing now and then to refocus on different aspects of photography. In short, there's a lot to learn.

Before I started this process I talked with several professional photographers, from the newly commercial photographers to the long experienced ones. They almost universally told me three things. First, it takes 2-3 years to get up to speed and begin producing good marketable images and begin building a portfolio. Second, it takes 3-5 years to get your business up and running where you're selling images, or photo cards in my case. And third, it takes 5-7 years to produce your first book or portfolio.

And all the while I keep listening to professional and watching other photographers in my situation, trying to get a small personal business working without wearing out or running out of money in the process. While I'm out on photo trips, like street fairs, festivals and such events, I look at the number of photographers with booths selling cards and prints. Some will talk about the business side of it if they have the time. And I visit small specialzed card and gift shops to see the range of photo cards they sell.

I've learned several things. First, there are a lot of photographers, either either one line or stock agencies selling others' line, in the business of photo cards. Second, the corollary to that, it's a very competitive business, for the types of cards and prints, and prices, meaning you have to do a lot of marketing to make it work. And third, it's not very profitable. With cards selling from $2.95 to $4.95, you have to price yourself near the edge of making it cost effective.

And? Well, while my friends who get my cards say I should market them, it's clear to me it's not worth the effort right now. I need a portfolio of image, a small inventory of photo cards, the process to produce prints and cards quickly, gettng the business legal and operating with a financial plan, and all the stuff required to start and run a business, namely a business plan. But they've told me in the first few years it's a trade-off for your time, doing photography or running a business.

And when I talk with them, they all recommend the same thing, if I want make it a personal endeavor to focus on photography for the first few years where you have the portfolio, inventory of images for cards, the supply of cards, and a plan to get the business started if you want to go that direction. But they don't recommend it if I want to do photography.

So, it's a road to not only to relearning photography, but understanding the viability of my work, which takes time. And that's if you're good and work hard. And, if you're like me, just longer since I'm taking it slow. But as I keep telling folks, I have the rest of my life, so I'm in no rush. And that's the key in some ways, to have the money to have the time to do what you want to be creative and live well.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

NPR - A view and questions

This is a photo from Voluteer Park in Seattle, looking west to downtown (Space Needle in the distance), at the entrance to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. I go there the first Thursday of every month on my errands around Seattle before going to my life coach. I was sitting on the base for the Dark Sun sculpture (below). It was a great day. The wind was blowing in from the west, into where I was sitting. The sun was out, the temperature between cool and warm, and the air quiet except for the occasional airplane flying overhead in the landing pattern for Sea-Tac Airport.

While sitting there in the mid-afternoon I thought about my retirement. I was watching the people going about their life, seemingly unaware of the day. Some elderly couples on the frequent walk around the park, parents with babies congregating together in a field, parents playing with small kids, couples playing freesbie, and the groups going to and from the Museum. I wondered if they realized how good the day was and the rest of the world. But it got me to thinking about life in retirement.

Well, some questions came to me in a sequence of thinking about my retirement, something I don't know how many people think about it once they get to their retirement but I thinking about the world at large, the events happening around the world that afternoon, where I am in life, and where I was at that moment. And these questions came into my mind.

One, did I earn my retirement? Well, I started working at 17 and retired at 56, so it was a long time working, including 4 years in the US Air Force and 28 years with the USGS. It seems reasonable to accept I've earned it, but I was thinking about my benefits when I read about all the people without an annuity or lost theirs late in life from corporate bankruptcies. Was being a public servant acceptable to say I know live on the government retirement fund? Well, millions do and it's the most profitable retirement package going today (and they say the government can't do anything right).

Two, did I deserve it? Well, I worked hard and can show a lot of my contributions to the USGS in various annual data and investigation reports. I think it's worth it to say I feel ok about my career. I sacrificed some career opportunities and promotions to focus on the work and the staff and providing public service. We make our choices in our life and our career, and I feel good about mine.

And three, is it fair and right? With all the people in the world, most people in the US live in the top 10-20% of the world, and I'm likely in the higher part of that range. I have no debts outside the occasional normal small ones. I'm in good health, my physician thinks so despite problems keeping an exercise program going. And I have some interests to keep me going for the rest of my life with ideas for more.

In short, I think I tried my best with what I had and while I can't change being born when, where and to whom, I know I didn't do harm and even helped. So is that fair and right? I don't know. I also don't know what will happen. No one knows that, and where I'll be in even a few years. I can plan and hope, and leave the rest to the circumstances of life in the world today.

Thoughts on a sunny afternoon in the park.


It started about a week ago. I wanted to get out hiking with my camera. So, I started to think what camera(s) to take, what lenses to go along, and what accessories I need. Then it was more a mental exercise getting ready to hike and photograph. In the past it was easy as I had the backpack and the camera system easy to pack along with the normal (ten essentials) hiking stuff. Over the week to Thursday it was just that, thinking to a decision.

By Friday, the day before I wanted to go on the first day the Nisqually Entrance to Mt. Rainier NP would be open all the way to Paradise, still in about 8+ feet of snow (all you can see from the parking lot and visitors center is snow). But it was more to get in and see the construction from last November's storm damage. It's been open to the Westside Road on Sundays, but I just never got there.

And so by Friday, I was ready to prepare the backpack. I have checklist years old on postit notes so I don't have to think beyond laying everything out and stuff it somewhere in the pack where it's easy to find. Well, I forgot one thing. While my old camera system with two bodies, 5-6 lenses, etc., my new digital/film camera system takes twice the room. "Oops." is an understatement.

I use an old medium Sundog "Art Wolfe" photo-backpack (the only thing he I like about his work). It's what some call, "the little refrigerator", because it looks like one. But its one advantage is that it accommodates both photography equipment and hiking gear, something the others don't do. And the Sundog is a front-loading pack so you have easy access to anything it without unloading stuff the top-loading packs require.

Anyway, I spread everything out on the living room floor in the early afternoon, and even after the Mariners-Yankees game was over (great game, M's won 15-11) I was still at the same place. I can't get everything into the pack and make it light enough to carry (remember I'm 57 now). It just doesn't work. So I have to make new decisions about what I take, film or digital, or find a way to go minimalist with the hiking gear.

And so I ended up putting everything back as it was and work on it another day, like Saturday to get out sometime over the next week or weekend. Sometimes it's just not a good idea to be less than prepared. Ok, I didn't mind not going today, with promises to go another day (don't we all do that?). Sometimes preparation is just a mental exercise to be ready to do something than actually preparing for it.

Friday, May 4, 2007

My Camera bags have feet

Ok, feet? Well, it's a personification of my camera system. You see, ever since childhood I have personified inanimate objects. We all do this to some degree, put personal and sometimes human value in the things in our life. It's a part of my perspective of life. It's not an obsession, and it puts the humor in life. Kinda' like the Gary Larsen view of life. And I give it to my camera bags.

I have three camera bags ready to go. One is an 20+ year old Domke F-3 bag with my Minolta 35mm manual focus system going back to 1969. I generally have two sets of cameras and lenses, one for street photography using XD-11's and 5 lenses, and one for general photography with X-700's, MD-1's and four lenses. I swap them for the situation. One is a new Domke F-3 bag with my Canon digital and film cameras with four lenses. And one with my Horseman 4x5 camera system with two lenses.

And my point? Well, I always imagined they have feet. You know the small ones like the robots in the 1970's SciFi movie "Silent Running". There were short, squat, boxy robots with short waddlely legs, like penguins. My camera bags have these, or at least it seems that way some days when I wake up to find them by the door, quietly sitting there waiting, to say, "Ok, when you get ready, we're ready." Ok, I moved them there the night before, but hey, if you can find something funny with life early in the morning, I don't know.

And then there are the rainy days. They sneak over to the door to the deck, take a few breaths, turn and look at me sadly, saying, "Well, we do live in the Northwest and it is .... (enter any season or month)." And they slowly waddle to the office to sit for another day. But the one that sits on the chair keeps peaking out the window to check the weather or if I plan to just live with the rain and go out anyway. When if I do decide to go, they'll just slowly move to the door and be ready, just in case I change my mind and don't want to go, to say, "You were thinking?"

So, my camera bags have feet and a lives of their own at times, or so it seems sometimes. And I won't get into the backpack and hiking gear..., yet anyway.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Photo Manipulations

Manipulating photographs is a touchy issue with many photographers, and everyone has their own definition. I'm no exception on the subject, and I'll present my view on it. There is a simple view and a complex view as we know with many issues, as you approach the center of the argument the gray area gets wider and fuzzier, because words are open to interpretations and actions are subject to individual choices. I raise this subject because it came up on a forum on street photography where someone asked if there limits on manipulating a photo presenting street photography.

First, there's a wide definition of street photography, and the widest works for me when it's defined as photography taken while engaged in the everyday events of life. It's about people, places, events, and so on that constitutes anything taken in the moment of time with little real interest in making it artistic beyond what was there. It's about the photographer's realistic view of the moment. The key thing is that it must be real and realistically presented, which means no manipulation.

And that's where the subject came from. We may have seen in recent months the story of photojournalist manipulating images of war scenes, one example being the bombing of Beruit by the Isrealis last summer where the photographer added more smoke plumes to exagerate the effect. Well, that's the crux of the issue with street photography. It must be real and realistically presented. Otherwise, it's just an image, more art than fact.

And this leads to my defintion of manipulation. Manipulation involves the content of the photograph, meaning anything that changes what was originally captured in terms of the entire image including color (if taken in color). After that anything done with the image is divided by this line. Which is?

Well, for one, outside of compositing images, anything generally done with traditional darkroom techniques is not manipulation in my view but work involved in making the print. This includes the film, for which there was a huge range in both color and black and white and their individual characteristics. This includes any film processing, for which black and white photographers were noted to do because of the dynamic range between the scene and the film. This includes any technique used in the printing methods including the paper, and the exposure, which also includes dodging and burning.

Digital photography has changed the techniques available in capturing, processing, and printing images. In short, it's a whole new world. But it doesn't change my definition of manipulation. It's still the same because you can translate all the traditional techniques to Photoshop, and if you want, limit yourself to them, and even add a few within the definition. Which are?

Ok, everyone knows we get the color wrong with film. Who hasn't used the wrong film, wrong lighting or the wrong color corrective filter? And you can do the same with digital, except now you have the raw file to recover your mistakes and get the right color balance. And this is where I draw a dotted line, "to get the color correct" for the scene. Anything altering the colors from their original color is manipulation.

So, this means everything else is manipulation? Well, I can't fully say as I haven't tested the features in Photoshop, but I can say what I have tested constitutes manipulations with very few fuzzy distinctions. Fuzzy? Well, on some images recently I noticed the lens had a dirty spot which caused streaks in the blue sky, so I brushed the streaks to match the surrounding sky and make it appear correct. And for that I would say is the fuzzy part, small mistakes are ok if it's to correct it to the original from somethings not intentional in the original.

Why all the arugment? Well, some types of photography demand realism. These are wildlife photography, photojournallism and street photography. That's where most stop, but I include nature and landscape photography. I'm a stickler for capturing what I see and presenting it as realistically as I saw it. Many don't include these catagories, but I do for personal and professonal reasons. When I see a nature or landscape image I like to know I can stand the same place and see the same scene in the image, or at least as best one can because of time and weather.

And it's why many of my nature and landscape images look a little flat, I don't put "pop" into them. I didn't use saturated films or now use Photoshop to "improve" the image. It's the old WYSIWYG idea. And I'll continue to practice it as best I can. This doesn't mean I don't appreciate and admire manipulated images. I do because it shows originality and artistic talent which I enjoy seeing. I only say ask they say what it is, which may not be realistic.

And so, as they say, in conclusion, manipulation is relative, but it's centered around the content of the photograph, and if it was or wasn't altered beyond the original scene. And as Jimmy Buffett sang, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

NPR - Being Normal

This is a rant with the DSM-IV-TR. If you don't know what it is, it's the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, and is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States. Why am I angry at it? Because, as someone suggested, if it were really applied, everyone would be suffering from some condition listed in it.

To some extent it's a fraud because many of the "conditions" aren't "abnormal", but simply expressions of human beings being normal. It's an exercise of morality over a population. I'm not against some of the conditions listed because they are extreme in people when expressed at its extreme condition. But in far too many cases, the "diagnosis' is simply to put a label on someone or provide some medical cure through drugs or therapy.

I'm angry because of my "diagnosis" with Dysthymia. While I agree it's a mental condition, it's not abnormal and doesn't make me abnormal. It's who I am. I'm not crazy nor mentally ill. And while the diagnosis is interesting, it's doesn't do anything to help except get my health insurance company to cover drugs and/or therapy, except that the drugs don't work or have serious side effects and the therapy they'll pay for requires a plan to a cure but won't cure me.

You see, genetic Dysthymia isn't curable, and barely controllable with drugs and therapy. But if you do go down that road, it's the endless cycle of waiting for the drugs to work, hoping they'll work, adjust the dosage as they work, and then finding new ones when the effects dissipate in 2-3 years. And therapy is the endless search for the right therapist. And while I have a life coach, it's not with a therapist recognized by the health insurance, but then we don't have to subscribe to a plan or timetable.

As for drugs, there's an interesting article in Harper's Weekly about the depression business, and the collusion between the medical profession and the pharmacy business. It's manufactured to some extent to sell more drugs. I have to agree. There is a plethora of ads on TV and in magazines about if something is "wrong" with you, there's a drug to "cure" you. The reality is that it won't, and will just add to your drug bill while you cope with the effects and side-effects. And drugs for depression are good examples of this.

While there are many which are beneficial for people with short-term depression and some are beneficial for some people with Dysthymia, the general success rate is about 50% and all are short-lived, for 2-3 years before you have change dosage or find a new drug. This works well for short-term depression but for Dysthymia, it's the lifetime continuous cycle of waiting for the effect to kick in, adjusting the dosage to work and inhibit the side effects, and when the drug's effectiveness dissipates to search for a new one.

So the result? Well, the only one thing I know is that what I think and feel is me, consciously thinking and feeling without the detriments or benefits of drugs. It guarrantees I won't always think or feel well, but I see this an advantage sometimes because there are times it helps me think through the issues and situations in life. Sometimes in the darkness, it's easier to see the light.

Uncertainty Principle

I was listening to a local NPR interview show with Walter Isaacson about his new book on the life of Albert Einstein. Einstein had problems later in his career with several new physicists' ideas, such as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Well, I've only had a year of university physics in 1968-69, so that's not something I can really understand, except to say it's about the uncertainty about knowing the position and momentum of something while observing it.

Simply stated, you can know either speed or directin with certainty but not both at the same time. I know it's been applied to a lot of other things with some, or not, success. Well, it got me to thinking about photography and the photographer, and if being a photographer there is an uncertainty factor whenever we do our work. We can observe the events, but the moment we pick up the camera, we can't observe the events because being present as a photographer, we change things. We change ourselves and maybe the events going on.

I realize this isn't quite an exact translation of the uncertainty principle, but while walking around doing photography I noticed I can watch events unfold in front of me, and while I still can't be certain of what will happen, the second I bring the camera to my eye and start seeing the world through the camera, I lose the ability to watch and know what's going on around me. I also begin to effect the events, namely the people, around me because they notice the photographer.

Another side of the uncertainty principle applied to photography is simply we don't know what we think we know. Huh? Well, it's the beauty of photography. We like to think when we start on a photo trip or go to a photo shoot, we generally have some idea of what, where and when we want to photograph. The reality is that we really don't know what will happen. We want to arrive, have things go as planned, and go home to bring back the images we envisionage.

Well, it doesn't happen. That's the uncertainty. We are also part of the unknown, we think we know our position and momentum, but we really don't know that because we're the experiment in life. We're the observer and the object of the observation. That's the reality of being human, and being photograhers, we think we're different. We're not. We're uncertain as anyone, and as they say, just along for the ride.

And hopefully, we can have the camera ready to photograph what we do actually see. As someone was asked when he came back from a photo-hike, "Did you get the best photographs?", to which he responded, "No, but I got the best it offered." Can we say that when we photograph? Until then I live with the uncertainity.

NPR - Cereal Box Reading

An old friend from work who retired a few years before I did wrote to me to say she found my Website and spent some time wandering around and reading some of the columns. She said it reminded her of breakfast reading with coffee. I responded that in part it's what I intended, cereal box reading. You know when you're at the table and want something to read, so you pick up the closest thing, which is often the cereal box. And you find yourself reading it for a short while before realizing you're reading a cereal box?

I loved her answer which is exactly what I intend. I just want to write on the small things I see in life, the things that take a few minutes to read but stick with your for awhile, and just maybe down the road of life, you remember it to rethink something else you saw, heard or read. Or maybe something you think about later along with the thought you read to pursue it a little more. Or just maybe something to make you smile about the world and life.

That's all, nothing more and nothing less. Just wanderings in life today. You see if you put a group of people in a room, most will gravitate to each other to talk about their situation, their lives, or anything else. Some will wander into corners and be quiet. I'm one of those who'll watch the group for awhile, but while stilling listening I'll wander to the window to look out at the world. I like to see what's going outside.

And I'm one of the people who like being alone. I wander through life engaging people as it happens, but 90% of the time I like being alone. My photography and other things keep me quite busy, and I, unlike many people, don't need other people continually around me to make me feel alive and a part of the world.

And this affords me the time to observe, photograph, and think out loud (to myself of course until I write it down on the Web). It's my nature which runs in the family. It's well written about in Anneli Rufus' book A Party of one. Many people who have advanced our world and lives are loners, so it's normal to be one, much against the media's stupid diatribe against them.

And even when standing in line, a loner can be extroverted for the short time you're waiting for your latte. You see, we still like to engage the world and people, it's just we're comfortable with ourselves that company is a choice than a necessity. It's different than the media mistakenly portrays "loners" when in fact those people were angry from rejection, their life, or events in the world.

Anyway, I couldn't resist the laugh at the cereal box reading thought.

LWD - Living with Dysthymia

I decided to add another series, like I don't have enough, but I think it's pertinent to my life and life in general. Dysthymia is a different form of depression, as it has two origins, one initiated by some event or situation in someone's life and one genetic. The former is described as a mild form of depression lasting 2 or more years. The latter is described as a lifetime situation with someone who inherited it. I have the latter, and can trace mine to my childhood when it surfaced.

Almost all people with genetic Dysthymia can trace their condition to their childhood, usually starting in their teenage years, and often gets misdiagnosed as other forms of depression or mental health conditions, or as often a personality disorder. It's none of those. And it's not something you need to think of as entirely bad, it's not and has many good effects. Almost all people with Dysthymia go quietly about their life, you would never guess they have it, where many people who experience it (non-genetic) often are a little obvious as they're different.

And why the difference? People falling into Dysthymia experience changes in the life and mood. People with genetic Dysthymia have had it all their life so it's not so obivous in the changes in their life. It's only when they have double depression do you notice something different with them. And, in my view, the two experience double depression differently, where non-genetic have more typical severe depression, and genetic have added depression, a slow slide into a deeper self.

I can't and won't speak about the non-genetic form of Dysthymia in this series except occasionally in comparison. My Dysthymia is genetic. I was diagnosed in 1991 after the death of my brother and 3 years before my father's passing. In hindsight, I can trace mine to when I was six but really didn't exhibit it until high school. I've suffered two periods of double depression, both leading to thoughts of suicide, one in 1978 when I almost succeded - and would have if not for a last moment thought, which I'll talk about later.

The second was in 1991 when my brother died of a heart attack - when my Dad and I had another and major falling out, and when I got a promotion to be a senior technical manager and lead hydrologist for a 24/7 realtiime data operations team. It was a stressful year, and thought of suicide often but knew in the end it wasn't an answer. And that's the key to genetic form. It's a reality check that often actually helps.

You see I describe the feeling of being near suicide as sitting on the bottom of a deep well. All you see and know is darkness, it surrounds every fiber of your being. And ever so slowly it sinks into your heart, your soul, and eventually your spirit, where it feels as the only thing you are. Surprisingly, however, genetic Dysthymics function in life. That's the secret to their existence. It's not obvious what's going on with them. We won't tell, and will get on with life, except we're not there.

So what changes things? It's not drugs or therapy. It's the willingness to live.