The headline isn’t a typo. It’s Latin. I’m pretty sure that only one of you who comments regularly knows what it means.
No worries. I’ll tell you.
“Do what you are doing.”
That sort of falls in nicely with the discussions of the last few days. I read it in a New York Times piece about California Governor Jerry Brown. I first photographed him during his first pass as governor. He was approachable, smart and disciplined. That seems like 150 years ago.
It was during those years that the nickname, “Governor Moonbeam” was hung on him. Do you know what earned him that silly name? He was talking about the future when signals could be bounced off satellites and they could be used to communicate.
Can you say cell phones?
As in many things, he was ahead of his time.
He rebuilt his political career after his failed run for president. He was elected governor again after serving in various other political posts. This time around, he lifted California out of debt and well into profitability. He learned from his mistakes.
Today is his last day as governor. He is 80 years old. He retires today to his family home on a pretty isolated piece of land in Northern California. Somehow, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of him. At least, I hope not.
I didn’t intend this to be about Jerry Brown. It just started that way. When he was a young man, he was in the seminary. He was going to be a priest. The Latin saying is a Jesuit saying. I was taught by Jesuits at Loyola/New Orleans. That was during a masters program. Those kinds of beliefs are embossed in my brain.
Reading that article did bring a lot of memories flooding back. Memories about my teenage years. Memories about my early career years. Memories about my many moves throughout the world and country.
This is added to by a man whose dad just passed. He and sister have two pictures that I made when I worked at the newspapers in Winston-Salem North Carolina. In early 1981. He sent me an email. At first, he was wondering of the name on the picture was me. When I confirmed that, he asked what I knew about the pictures.
That’s a long time ago.
I don’t even remember taking them. One of them is pretty good. I’ll dig through my archives. Unfortunately, they look like they were made for our social pages. It’s likely that I never scooped up those negatives when I left the paper. When you are a staff member of a newspaper, magazine or wire service, your work belongs to them. Most bosses turn a blind eye to a staffer removing negatives as long as you left something behind. Those are the kinds of negatives I wouldn’t taken.
I hope not. I’d like to help this guy out. I’m happy to scan some negatives and make him some prints if I can.
Oh, that learning thing? It seems that I’m mostly trying to learn about myself. All recent signs point to that.
Time passes. Seasons change. The world keeps turning. What seems important today is meaningless tomorrow.
I never claimed to be a nature photographer. In truth, I’m not. I photograph what I see. For the last few years a lot of what I see has many elements of nature. I suppose it could be attributed to my dog walks. Whether it is the pack or just the dog who sees stuff, we tend to walk in places that they like. That means nature rather than urban. True, we live in an urban environment, but they head straight to the places that they know.
I tried an experiment a few weeks back. I took the all-seeing dog to Treme, where I has a little business. When that was concluded, I took her for a walk. She walked around a very long block. But, she didn’t like it. I thought that the new smells, sounds and sights would interest her. They didn’t.
Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a long piece in the New York Times about city folk moving to the country, primarily in the Hudson Valley just Upstate from New York City. I found the piece interesting, but the people who were buying property were all creative hipsters.
But, I’m a lot older than the oldest person interview. One thing I that I know about this particular class in New Orleans is that they are incredibly ageist. They don’t like me. I’m happy to return the favor if that’s what they want because I’ve long said that I am a mirror. I don’t believe I can convert you to anything. And, you can’t convert me. I’d prefer to be good to everyone, but if you attack me… well, you know. Don’t open a window that I can jump through.
The seasons are changing. What a metaphor. The picture is about the last one I can take of fall in the swamp. We are four days away from winter. The scenery around me finally looks like it. Most of the leaves are on the ground. The weather has finally turned cold. Well, cold for us. I doubt that we’ll have the kind of winter that many of you will have. Snow. Low double digits. Maybe even single digits. That could happen down here. But, not for very long.
As you know the season is changing for me too. I turned 65 in November. That’s one of those “big” birthdays. Based on statistics, I know that I have about fifteen years left on this planet, give or take. I have a friend who is about 72. He lost his main source of income, which was stock photography. To be sure that he and his wife aren’t destitute, but they are thinking very hard about moving to Mexico. They want to go out on their terms and with some sort of class. My musicians friends, who are about 70, are producing heavily at the end of their careers, know that time is short.
I’m a little younger than most of them are. Imagine that concept, “younger than.” Sheesh. I can’t say that about many people anymore. That said, I know my time is short. Fifteen years might seem light a long time, but the first 65 years went by like a snap of my fingers.
So, when I talk about changing websites, or taking you with me if I do, I’m not in any pain or mental agony. I just want what are some of my last moves to be productive. Artists of all stripes never really retire. There are just somethings we don’t want to do any more. Since you know that music is important to me, I look at all the musicians with whom I grew up. Many are playing farewell tours. Some are saying that their next tour could be their last. Some won’t do more than a few shows a year in places that they know and like.
It’s not the music from which they are retiring. They love playing music. It’s the nonsense of touring that they can’t stand. The process of marketing their new work is even less appealing. That’s the same with photographers. A friend of mine often quotes this saying, “sometimes the hardest part of taking a picture is getting there.” That’s mostly what I’ve left behind. The marketing, the sales and the constant contact that eat up about half of my day. Days that are getting short.
For sure, I have some traveling left in me. But, to places that I want to go.
Belorussia. I may say that I’m Russian. That’s just short hand. I’m really Belorussian on my father’s side. I’m haunted by not knowing much about my family. I doubt going there will help me locate anything, but I’ll feel like I really tried.
A long road trip through The United States. It’s been years since I’ve toured the country and looked into our nooks and crannies. Sure, I travel for business. Both businesses, in fact. But, I never have the time to go out and really explore.
Hong Kong. Yes. I used to know it well. You can’t help spending six years in a place and not knowing it. I want to see what’s changed and what’s the same. There are photographic places that I didn’t know about while I was there that make great statements about our planet. Actually, I knew about them. I just didn’t see them as I would today.
All of these places would be great picture producers. That’s part of my journey. That will always be part of my journey.
It’s Sunday. I wrote way too long. Sorry about that.
It’s getting longer.
I was walking the dog who sees stuff when it occurred to me that you might be worried about me. With all this talking of passing. No worries. PLEASE. I’m just planning for the future. I’m not worried about it. I’m not even scared of dying. Make no mistake. I don’t want to die. But, as they say, nobody gets out of here alive. The way I figure it, I’m already playing with house money. Besides, every time I photograph somebody who lives into their nineties, I think to myself that I don’t really want to live like this.
The gap. The gap between all of the trees in which the sky shows in what is normally a dead space.
If you’ve spent any time at all in British Commonwealth countries you’ve heard that phrase. “Mind the gap.” It refers to the gap between a station platform and the train or subway. It’s a way of telling passengers to be careful. I first heard it in Hong Kong. It became so common that I tuned it out. I’m pretty sure most people do that.
Tuned out. Just like so many people do to their surroundings. Even I do that. If I’m in a hurry, or thinking about something, I often fail to see. That’s terrible if you are somebody like me. A guy who makes his living with his eyes. I shouldn’t discount my brain, heart and soul. But, the very first input is through my eyes.
This picture is one that I likely wouldn’t see. But, that sky. That’s what I saw. I started looking around for something to frame it. I saw all those trees and that was it. A very fall-like image. In my head. In my heart. In my soul. All that was left to do was push the button.
I did that.
It wasn’t enough. There was a disconnect between what I saw and what the camera’s sensor could handle.
Post production was a bit tricky. Most sensors cannot see what the eye sees. That means there always has to be some enhancements in post production. The question is always how much is too much? Or, what is the least amount that I can do to get the scene back to what I saw?
This picture is the result of about five tries. Most of them went too far. The reds were electric. The sky looked like a nuclear bomb exploded nearby. Those weren’t right. I wasn’t aware of any explosions that day.
I stripped the original file of a lot of its color. I built from there. That got me to the picture you see today. Sometimes you have to do that. Take a step back to get to where you want to go today.
There’s a lesson in that. But, I forget what it is.
The changing of seasons reminds us of that. In some places it sort of comes like a knife slicing through butter. In other places, it lingers for weeks until it finally sneaks up on us. The leaves are gone. The air turns cold.
That’s what this picture is about.
One day my dog was sniffing in the grass. The next day she couldn’t find the grass. Now the leaves are gone. The grass is brittle with cold. Some grass is dead. Some is hardy and will make it through most of our kind of winter. It doesn’t smell the same to her.
I don’t have the sense of smell that she does. But, I can see. That’s what I do. I see. I react. I push the button. I come back to the studio. I try to help you to see what I saw. To feel what I felt.
Sometimes I’m successful. Often I’m not.
That’s the way it goes.
It went that way for me yesterday. I received an email from the folks who run the black and white contest. If you recall, I offered them one of the best pictures of my career. The black and white version of Big Queen speaking to the media with photographers surrounding her. I’d like to report that it won something. But, no. It wasn’t even considered for anything. One of the best pictures of my career wasn’t good enough for anything.
What does that say about my career?
As you know, I’m going through some soul-searching. Some of it is about technical issues like websites, blog sites and how to best access my archives. Some of it is about me. My work. My continued work. It is true that I have earned a good part of my living from my pictures. I always wonder if I am sort of a fraud. If it came too easy.
A few days ago I mentioned that writing this blog on a daily basis came easy to me. I talked about my mental and emotional practice. It may come easy because it is all worthless. Often, the trial of doing anything equals the quality. Maybe, I’ve been fooling myself. And, you. Maybe not.
I don’t know.
The black and white contest posts the winners today. I’ll have a look. Maybe I’ll look and laugh. Many of these contests are popularity contests. Some are not. We’ll see.
Oh. One more thing. If I want to make WordPress the sole provider of my work, that’s easy. A few mouse clicks and I’m done. I’m done with Squarespace and GoDaddy. What remains to be seen is if I’m able to turn Storyteller into my commercial site with the blog as part of that. I’m very capable of learning. I believe life-long learning is the key to staying young. It may even curb dementia. On the other hand, I don’t want to be forced to do anything. I’m too old for that silliness. If I have a choice between learning to code for WordPress and — oh let’s say — playing the guitar, the choice is fairly simple.
By the way. Spell check wants to turn GoDaddy into Gordy. Hmmmmm.
While many of you in the Northern Hemisphere are already having wintry days with snow and very cold temperatures, we in the Gulf Coast are finally in the middle of something that looks like fall.
Make no mistake.
I’m not crowing over it. I know there are those of you who are cold. And, are dreading a long cold, dark winter. I like cold. I like snow. I get it. When you have to live in it, it’s not fun. But, it’s been a long time since I had to do that. It’s likely that my old hip and back would hate it. But…
The picture. It was almost a throw away. It came at the end of a dog walk. I never could frame it properly. I had to crop it in post production. But, I didn’t self edit in the field. I didn’t delete in camera — or phone, as was the case. I looked at it on a big screen and thought that it had possibilities. So away I went. I worked on it.
I had a funny title for it. But, I thought that nature would disapprove. I was going to call it “American Fall.” See what I did there? It’s a double entendre. The picture is red, white and blue. And, my country sure has been slipping these last two years because of the man who thinks his brain is in his gut, which sort of makes sense if you think about it.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t bring politics onto this page. But, well, you know…
The one thing I know is that I call these kinds of pictures, “little pictures.” I’ve been making them for so long that I don’t know if I can make a “big picture.”
It’s pretty enough, but that’s not what this post is about. I promised you my views — among a lot of other people’s views — about Instagram. In yesterday’s chaos I forgot to write about that. Sorry. Today’s post is about social media, and Instagram, in particular.
It didn’t help matters when I read about the “selling of ourselves” in a New York Times editorial piece this morning. It helped even less when a friend of mine who talks about the music business said about the same thing in an email that he sends to a few close friends. About a million of us.
Instagram. There is a growing belief that it hurts photography more than it could ever help. It is derivative in nature, with so many photographers producing the same kinds of images that everybody they follow does too. You know the ones. Pictures with water in them that is exposed at such a slow shutter speed that water appears to be almost mist-like. Or, the high mountain top so over produced that nature could have never made that scene. Or street photography that isn’t really street photography.
This is all done for likes and popularity. What a trade-off. We need to feel good about ourselves rather than actually try to produce something that matters. For some of us it once done in hopes of attracting new business. Not so much anymore. Either buyers or assigners know who you are or they don’t. It’s too hard to wade through the noise.
The same thing happens in every social media. A good idea becomes derivative as many people think it is a good idea, and start to copy it. I see that with my work all the time. At first it’s flattering. Then, it’s annoying.
It really comes down to this.
There are just too many of us trying to break through. There is just too much stuff to wade through in order to find the good stuff. There are no real gatekeepers and anybody who tries gets shouted down. At the same time, many people see this as a new way of doing business.
It isn’t. The same basic business rules apply. Ever hear of the 20-80 rule? Originally it meant that 20% of the staff does 80% of the work. That’s broadened out a bit. It can almost apply to anything now.
Twenty percent of the people are making pictures that might matter. Eighty percent of them make pictures that are crap. The same thing applies to music. To writing. To painting. And, on and on.
That’s not to say that something in that marginal 80% won’t appeal to someone, but that’s a personal preference. The body of work from which that one piece of art came won’t hold up under close view. It’s also not to say that beginners shouldn’t post for the feedback… as long as they accept feedback for what it is.
Bottom line. It’s almost all noise and no signal.
Better thinkers and writers than me have said it. They go even further. They think the whole thing needs to collapse under its own weight so we can start again. Some think slight adjustments will recalibrate the whole thing, but I don’t know.
From my own very personal perspective, I’m not immune either. About 80% of the work you see here, on Storyteller, don’t pass my own standards but are good enough. Good enough because I publish everyday and sometimes you just have to go with what you’ve got.
That’s no excuse.
On the other hand, pictures posted here don’t put food on the table. Maybe I should adjust my own thinking. Maybe I should post less, but with some really wowie-zowie work that buyers will be interesting in. If only I knew the proper SEO to get them here. I suppose I could hire somebody. But, they only know what once worked. SEO changes everyday.
For the record this isn’t a rant. Although it could be. It is really a state of the arts. Today. It’s not meant to discourage anybody. It is meant to make you think. To help you make original work. To grow. To be different. And, to own that.
Today is a little fractured. As it happened, I awoke at 3:34 am and could not fall asleep. It seemed that there was a bill due today that I’d neglected to pay with all the holiday and birthday stuff going on. My brain sort of exploded and woke me up.
So. I paid it. Luckily it is bank to bank so even though I paid it on the day it was due, it’s on time. The wonders of banking technology.
Then I was wired. And, I didn’t want to disturb the house. So I decided to work a little until I got tired. That happened about 4:45 am. I awoke again around 7:30 am. I started to doing morning stuff including coffee and breakfast. I was a little woozy so I laid down to read. I awoke at 11:45 am.
The dogs needed walking so I did that. We all ate lunch. I sat down at the big machine. I read some news. I was just getting up from my desk when it hit. Where is today’s Storyteller post?
So. Here I am. Late and confused. I think I need another nap. Or, a lot of coffee.
Here it is. A most unusual picture for me. I generally like to work very closely when I photograph flowers. The scene caught me eye. It is a very backlighted and contrasty scene. I thought that I could make it work even though I was photographing into the sun. It’s just one of those chances you take.
I had to work hard in post production to darken the picture and bring the light on the image to about what I saw in the field. The camera’s lens and sensor couldn’t quite do it. See those purple bands and the multi-colored band on the bottom right? The strong light was too much for the sensor.
All in all, the final picture captures what I originally saw. Sparkly red flowers against a field of green.
The only thing I can tell you about this picture is that if you want to grow as a photographer, take chances. This picture borders on the line of failure, but it was worth it.
In many ways, this is the prettiest time of year in Southeastern Louisiana. There are wonderful sunrises, except that I’m rarely awake to see them. I am awake to see the sunsets which have this exploding light sort of feeling.
As much as I say I don’t photograph sunsets, I do. I suppose what I really mean is that I don’t chase after them. But, like all of my subjects, if I see it I photograph it. Sometimes that means putting a sort of funky subject in the picture in order to give it context. Telephone lines. Oh, come on. In my own defense, I’m often way out-of-place to make a pretty picture.
Now you know about the picture.
If you are in The United States, you are likely counting the hours until this day passes because you have a four-day weekend. It’s Thanksgiving. If you are brave enough to deal with the crowds, Friday is called “Black Friday,” because there are huge fake sales on all sorts of thing that you normally wouldn’t buy.
For me, and mine, the holiday starts today. It’s my birthday. I am 65 years old. In theory, it’s my retirement day. Have you ever heard of an artist or photographer ever really retiring?
I wasn’t expecting to make any pictures. But you know what I say. Make the picture first. Worry about it later. Never self edit in the field. Never chimp. Never delete. If you must delete a really bad picture, do it after you’ve had time to look at on a bigger monitor.
That’s really sort of the basics.
The rest, like camera and lens selection is really just stuff.
I always suggest that a new photographer have one body and two lenses. The two lenses are the kit lens that came with the camera. The second lens is one of your choice. Right now the so-called “nifty-fifty” is popular. 50 mm lenses are great. But, when I was young and still learning the very basics, it was out of favor. I trained myself to see another way. My second basic lens is either a 20 mm, a 24 mm, or a 28mm.
The 28mm is the lens of choice for most serious street photographers. It sees more like our eyes do. It is not so wide as to distort a subject to whom you are very close. And, it’s generally sharp throughout the frame when you set the aperture at f 5.6 or smaller.
Some people like an 85 mm lens because the background is softer and you don’t have to work closely to film the frame with the subject. I think that it is a great portrait lens.
As usual, it all depends.
On to this picture. I made it while walking. As I mentioned the light was flat and gray. Just like it is today. When that happens I look for details that I can enhance in post production. It wasn’t happening. Then I saw a bunch of newly fallen leaves covered with water droplets. That was better. Than I found the picture you see. The original capture was light and lacked contrast. I helped it along in post production.
That’s the story.
Oh. One important thing. Tomorrow is my birthday. Don’t forget to buy my a coffee. 🙂