I started by reading the last column from a young writer at NOLA.com/Times-Picyune who was terminated — a euphemism for fired — when the competition, The Advocate bought the newspaper and website. Because it was a purchase and take over the new owners had to give them sixty days notice. Today is the 30 day mark.
It is her last column because she and her husband, also a T-P reporter who covers the Saints, want to stay in New Orleans. They bought their first home in February. She is looking for work outside of journalism since there is really no place to look in the city. There is the potential of conflict of interest. She’ll still edit and report. Just no more columns which have her opinion sprinkled into them. For the record, her column caused a lot of eye leakage. But, it wasn’t sappy.
That got me thinking about my own life, my career and my changes. It’s long and winding. It would probably take a couple of months worth of posts to tell you all the stories.
Sometimes, I wonder how I got here.
In terms of places, I lived all over. I even lived in Asia. A lot of my adult life has been lived in the south. Aside from Louisiana, I’ve lived in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. All was career related. Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t let my work drive my life.
Make no mistake, along the way I’ve lived in some wonderful places, had some great adventures and met some amazing people. The trick for me today is to keep going. In theory, even at my age, I’m not that old. But, getting older is simply the body’s way of saying if you think that was bad, just wait. So, on I go.
That’s the story. So far.
The picture. When I changed my phone system I thought that I lost photo editing software called Stackable. That’s like Lunchables, only you can’t eat it. I realized, only last week, that it still exists on my iPad. So back to work I went. I made this picture, using flowers and vines and all the stuff the dog usually sees.
By the way, she was groomed two days ago. Man, is she a pretty girl. She’s always cute, but this cut. Oh wow!
I have only one question about the finish of this picture, which I do in OnOne. What the hell happened to my watermark? I went back to the TIFF. It’s there. I went back to the working JPEG. It’s there. Yet when I export it, part of it falls off. I don’t even know how to fix it since it’s correct everywhere. Oh well.
Memorial Sunday. In New Orleans, today is the day we memorialize our war dead. The guys who gave their fullest. The guys who never made it home. This is their day.
We have a ceremony. Their graves are covered with little American flags. There are speeches. We ring the bell. We pay them the highest honors that we can.
These spring flowers are for them.
I may go. I may not.
It’s a little hard.
If I go, and I go to the Money Waster’s second line, I’ll be hopping and bopping. It’s hot out there. I’ll need lots of water to stay hydrated. I’ll need to eat something somewhere along the line. Some kind of New Orleans food.
It’ll all be great fun.
Or, I could lounge by the pool. Take a dip. Work on my tan. Burn some meat on the grill. The American way.
I could photograph what needs photographing. And, do the lounging thing later in the day. That would work.
I’ve long said that when I die, just throw my body in a dumpster somewhere. People can grieve or celebrate my passing, but I won’t care where you leave me.
There’s a lot of tongue in cheek in that paragraph, but seriously. Physical remains don’t really matter.
That said, I was driving by a location that is a common trash depository. I took a look inside, and the mattress and chair is what I found. What a scene. What a picture,
I did what I do. I made the picture. The purer, more documentary version, is very strong. But, these days I’m messing with photographs as a base to a more painterly-like piece.
My photojournalist friends will gasp at this. I don’t care. I haven’t been a pure photojournalist since 1990. These days, I’m closer than ever to getting outside myself and into the image. They say that all art is autobiographical.
What does this picture say about me.? In this time? In this place?
I’m thinking quite a lot.
We are living through a period in history when it seems goodness is retreating. Democracy is fighting to live on. Leaders have become autocratic. And, others think they have the right to determine what goes on in other human being’s bodies. The planet is suffering. The climate is changing. Plastic seems to be ruling the earth. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
Dark. Dark. Dark.
History shows us that when darkness is at its highest point, artists become more creative. We feel less inclined to go back to our old standbys. We tend to explore more. We tend to take more chances. Our work might not be beautiful. Instead, it makes a point.
This picture is about how we got here. Our disposable society. I went in and took a close look. The chair didn’t have a whole lot of wear on it. One arm rest was torn and patched with duck tape. I know an upholstering place that could fix that like new for about fifty dollars. The mattress? It was fine. It still had a sheet on it. Surely, it could be saved. At least, the sheet could be.
The picture. I went through a lot of changes on this one. Me, as well as the picture. It started out as a pretty good documentary piece. I kept working and working. I made a lot of false starts.
I had the image in my head. Getting there was a different issue. I finally did.
For instance, the dumpsters — the two dark frames on either side of the picture — are black. By removing as much color as possible, they revealed themselves to have a red undercoating. Likely, that’s how they came from the factory. When they reached the garbage collection company they were painted black and branding was added. I layered another picture over that. It was about nature. Nature retreating.
Plastic. It way worse than we thought. We make a big deal out of plastic water bottles. We make a big deal out of single use plastic straws.
I decided to save a month’s worth of plastic trash, with a little help from my friends. Today is March 25th. Six days to go. Two large paper grocery bags of plastic. Filled to the top. Admittedly, we ran out of some long lasting items like condiments. They added to the monthly total. But, what we found scared the hell out of me. And, that takes some doing.
Almost everything we buy has a plastic component to it.
Prescription bottles, prescribed and over the counter. All condiment bottles like mustard and catsup. Even vinegar bottles are made of plastic. Every possible kind of food wrapper. We normally buy different kind of lettuce in bags. We stopped. Doesn’t matter. Even a plain old head of ice burg lettuce is wrapped in plastic. Every fresh veggie or fruit that is carried out of the store is wrapped in plastic. Just a bag, but still. Meat. Sure the bottom of the package is made out of styrofoam, but the whole thing is wrapped in plastic. Frozen veggies? Plastic. Spices come packaged in plastic bottles. Buy a takeout sandwich? It is wrapped in plastic and shoved into a plastic bag. The only fast food place that doesn’t do that is Five Guys. Everything comes in paper. How many hamburgers can I eat in a week?
I could go on. And, on. And, on.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this.
Nature’s ultimate protective package is a banana. It comes with its own wrapper. The skin. You’d think that would be enough. Nope. We saw bananas wrapped in plastic. Oh no. Not the bunch. Each individual banana. Then, that was wrapped in plastic as a bunch. What are these people thinking?
There are some solutions. For fresh veggies and fruits you can buy mesh bags. The best are made of hemp. You can buy them in many health food stores or online. You can have a butcher cut and wrap meat in paper. You can buy bulk spices, and store them in your own containers. But, you have to be able to use them before they start tasting like colored saw dust.
So many things are hard to replace. Prescription bottles, for instance. Reusable glass bottles would be great. I suspect most people won’t remember to return them. We used to have glass milk bottles. When we had milkmen. My parents used to buy seltzer the same way. A delivery guy would come by and collect the empties which he replaced with refilled bottles. We drink seltzer today. We buy it at the grocery store. It comes in cans or bottles. Plastic bottles.
We can grow some staples. Tomatoes grow like mad down here. We’ll have 500-600 this year. Our basil plant is now a bush about to grow into a tree. We’d have strawberries too. But, the little jerks who call themselves dogs, smell them as they are ripening. When they are ripe, one bite and they are gone. They try to act like they aren’t guilty. Hard to do with red juice dropping down their chins.
In any case, shopping in store that uses paper, buying your own bags and containers, growing stuff and such, is going to get expensive. You don’t need to buy a lot, but you shop more… using your car. It never ends.
I’ve said in the past that I wished that I could paint. Before you tell me that I should try, I have. I have paints. Brushes. Paper. I’ve taken classes. Workshops. One on one learning. I have good hand — eye — coordination. For whatever reason, I can’t paint.
My failure is simple. Like newbie photographers who want to learn to take pictures with “the ten tips that will make you a great photographer,” I want it now.
I want to reach the level of my photographic work.
I forget how many years and how much time I’ve spent being a photographer. They talk about the 10,000 meaningful hours that you put into a thing to get really good at it. For me, that’s just getting started. So too, with most of my brother and sister photographers.
Find your voice. You can get good at a thing from a technical standpoint. You can make pictures that can compete with anybody else’s from a technical and compositional standpoint.
That’s not enough.
There is the emotional and spiritual something that makes your pictures stand out from all the rest.
That’s not limited to photography, although that’s what I talk about.
Think about music. Think about guitarists. Think Eric Clapton and Joe Bonamassa. With all due respect to Bonamassa fans, he can’t hold a candle to Clapton. I’ve watched them play on the same stage. On “Further on up the Road.” Bonamassa is fine. He plays good lead guitar. He plays good fills. He is a technically excellent guitar player. Eric Clapton puts his heart and soul into his work. It shows. He plays lead. He plays fills. He inspires me in a way that Bonamassa can’t. Maybe it’s me. I’ve been a Clapton fan for 50 years. I barely know Bonamassa work. There’s a reason for that.
Back to my work. This work.
This is my attempt at making a painting, when I don’t have the technical skills. It’s my watercolor. The work is done on the computer. There are probably ten versions of it in my archive. This is the one I like best. It’s simple. It strikes my minimalistic chord. I tried other colors. Blue works best. It feels natural. There are trees added to the original image. They wrap themselves around the main tree. I could hang this picture on my walls. I like it just that much.
If I didn’t, I would have missed the wood nymph hiding in the tree trunk. Do you see her? Do you see her eyes? Her nose? Her lips?
Or, is that a very young Mother Nature? She could be, since we’ve never seen Ma Nature. There are plenty of illustrations. A couple are quite famous. But, in a photograph?
The cocker spaniel who sees stuff went crazy. Bark, bark, bark.
That didn’t happen.
With the rain and the warmth around this place, we’ve had some wonderful moss blooms. I found one that is as green as this picture. I photographed it. I prepared a picture for Storyteller. I liked it well enough, but it just seemed empty. When the background is the subject, sometimes it’s a little boring.
Make no mistake. Backgrounds are important in the design process. An art director might use the mossy, green picture as a background for something else. He or she could tone it down, lay type over it, add maybe a picture or two. And, viola. You be surprised at how many movie posters are a combination of images that have very little to do with the film.
My working method these days is to prep the picture at night and post it the next morning. Or, schedule it to be posted for the next day or two. I do try to keep current.
I did that.
I went to sleep. I awoke with the picture on my mind. I remembered photographing a little girl of four maybe last summer. I found the file. I did the magic of stacking and blending. Here we are.
The wood nymph, or, Mother Nature.
Just a little Saturday experiment. Because? Because why not?
Spring is really upon us. You know how I know? My daily viewers have dropped by half. Rather than think y’all were mad at me, I poked around. A lot of the blogs that I read have a much lower readership as we crossed into May.
It’s either better weather and people aren’t staying inside as much. All good.
Or, along with removing spell check, WordPress is messing with the math again, making it harder to find some blogs. Very bad.
This is typical with all social media. A while back, before people really started to distrust Facebook, they admitted to changing certain search parameters. They admitted that they were experimenting with us.
Social media has become ubiquitous. Most of us need it for something. To show artistic work. To keep in touch with friends. To find long lost friends. The list goes on and on.
It may be worse than we think. In a long piece written in The New York Times, the former co-founder of Facebook admits that all sorts of staff can read our PMs. Ever wonder how something you wrote in confidence ends up being in an advertisement on Facebook, or worse being in an ad someplace completely unrelated? That’s your answer.
I have no reply. The co-founder suggests breaking up Facebook. I’m not sure what that’ll really do. Sheesh. There are rumours of some kind of penalty for Facebook. A fine. $5 billion dollar fine. That’s a drop in the bucket for them. I suggest something a little stronger. Prison terms for the people who want to make us their products and make money from us. Five to ten years for starters. No possibility of parole. No digital devices. Oh yeah. General population. No fancy federal country clubs.
If I sound angry, I’m not. I’m resolute. It’s time to take back our lives. From everybody who seeks to control us. The real problem is simple. We gotten used to these easy ways to communicate. How do we replace them?
The picture. Photograph it. Process it. Carve it up in post production by removing as much of the mid-tones as possible and see what happens.
I’m excited. I was able to get back to the old abandoned railroad cars that I once photographed along while back. There are more of them now. Some old Southern Railroad steel passenger cars have been added to the mix. The baby Leica got a workout in the light rain. The camera and I had fun.
The start of the start. Little seeds. Little seeds that eventually become little red berries. They don’t seem to grow based on seasons. Usually, I’m not wide-eyed enough to see them at this point.
The point of the point is that they usually show up in harsh light. The whole scene looks a little ugly. I likely ignore them as much as not see them. This time they were in my face. So I did what I do.
I made a picture.
I was right the first time. The scene, and the berries, was ugly.
I did what I do. Sometimes.
I tinkered in post production. I did it very heavily. Pretty soon, the scene took on a look of its own. I’m not exactly sure what it looks like now. But, it looks. It looks different. It looks however you want it to look.
That’s the thing about art. Or, semi-art.
You, the viewer, makes most of the meaning from whatever you are looking at. You bring your experience, your life, your soul into the picture. You make the meaning. I doesn’t matter what I intended.
They come to mind without really coming to mind. They are just there. They are a kind of koan. You see something. You react. You stop thinking about your approach. To paraphrase and old Nike tagline, “You just do it.”
Back in 1974 when I was in photojournalism school at SJSU, we had a main photography professor. His name was Joe B. Swan. He was from West Texas. He moved slowly. He talked slowly. We called him “Slow Joe.” It was not out of snarkiness. It was out of affection.
In one of our beginning classes we learned about shadows and silhouettes. Except, Joe said it with his West Texas accent. He called them “shaders and silerettes.” I think that’s how you spell those words. Just say them out loud and you’ll understand.
He made a point to tell us that these tools are like spice on food. Don’t use them all the time, but when you do, they’ll make the rest of your take sparkle.
That was 45 years ago. I still hear those words today.
I could write a lot about Joe B. Swan, but it’s enough to say that he was one of the kindest human beings that I’ve ever met. You didn’t think that he was a great teacher until you thought about it. Here I am quoting him 45 years later.
Before I tell you about this picture, I have to tell you that I’m in a strange place. Remember that my word of the year is learning. The best time for me to learn is when I’m not trying to learn. Just like making a picture. If I don’t look, the picture will find me soon enough. Same with learning.
So here we are at the start of four months into 2019. The first three months have just blown by. Mostly good things have happened. But, there have been some bad. The best of those things is that I’m learning. I found out that my dad had a sister, making her my aunt. An aunt that we never knew about. I don’t know why that is, and we may never find out, but that’s something. Through that we found out we have some second and third cousins that we didn’t know about. I hope to learn more about them because they might be able to tell me about our aunt — their grandmother.
How’s that for learning?
Things like that have begun to take me on a journey through my past. I’ve said that before. But, this time it’s on steroids. I expect that’ll change the way I see photographs and the way that I make them. We’ll see.
This picture. I saw it while I was crossing the street. first I saw the bike and the wheel. I looked down. A “shader.” A “silerette.” I made the picture. I went to work in the darkroom in my computer. If I were to show you all the pictures, you’d see the progression. Both in the field and in the studio. This is the final version. And, the one that I like best. Which brings me to a topic for tomorrow. Let’s just call it, “So many pictures.”
An experimental picture. A short tale. The Indians await.
I made a picture of trees as I often do. At this time of year they are about rebirth. And, nature’s cycles.
I did some gentle post-production. The picture was fine. I decided to play. To tinker. I turned a vertical picture on its side. I added the original vertical picture to the horizontal version. I adjusted everything. And, turned it back into its original vertical version. All of that resulted in sort of a sweeping motion by the tree. A sort of weird energy. That came out of my head.
That’s how I did it.
I used Snapseed because I made the picture on my phone. I suppose you could do it using editing software. It would be a lot more complicated. Because I am basically lazy I chose the easiest path. I’d rather spend my time making pictures.
Speaking of that, it’s almost time to photograph Mardi Gras Indians. Or, as they say Black Masking Indians wearing pretty, pretty suits.