Monday thoughts.

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.

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With little fall highlights.

My two greatest influences are not photographers. They are artists.

Vincent Van Gogh is one. Georgia O’Keeffe is the other.

Then, the photographers fall into line. People like Ernst Haas, Jay Maisel and David Alan Harvey. Every one of them, artists and photographers, influence my way of seeing. In color. And, all for different reasons.

Who influences you?

I was reading an article about many of today’s “digital photographers.” They bought a camera, maybe a few lenses and a flash. Off they go. They have no idea of the history of what they are doing. Or, who came before them. And, techniques used to make the picture of their dreams.

Now comes a whole class of “internet photographers.” These folks have never worked on assignment. Never made a commercial picture.

As you know, I use OnOne RAW photo editing software rather than Adobe products. The company has a whole host of “gurus” who will teach you their favorite techniques. Some are free. Some cost money. Or, they’ll take you on a guided tour. For even more money.

That’s fine, I guess. Everybody has to earn a living. They lead you to some far-flung location like Iceland, which is beyond very trendy, and photograph right along side of their class. All fun, I suppose. But, if you ask them where you can sell or license your newly made landscapes, they have no idea. Most of them sell through their website.

The real take away from this is that you are trying to learn from a person who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I don’t give workshops or lead tour groups because I don’t know enough. And, I’ve been doing this for 47 years.

I suppose I could do something in New Orleans. But, everybody and their other brother comes down here to lead some kind of group. I’d rather make pictures, then be responsible for getting someone killed because they wandered into the wrong neighborhood carrying 40 pounds of gear.

By the way, this is not a rant. I don’t have many of those left in me. This is pretty much kind of a state of the industry, especially as it applies to new photographers, or those of you who might get a new piece of equipment from Santa. One can only hope. Right?

Here’s what I suggest.

If I were starting out, I’d take the time to learn everything I could about my new-found love of making pictures. I’d go online. I’d go to the library. I’d haunt museums. And, I’d visit galleries. Not only will you learn what came before, but your own direction might find you.

Of course, I wouldn’t limit myself to that. I’d photograph constantly. Every city, town or¬† village is interesting in its own way. Your backyard might hold something interesting. You’ll see why in a minute. I’d look at my work, deleting nothing on a lcd because you can’t see anything on those tiny screens and you don’t want to be called a monkey because the slang for peering at your lcd after taking a picture is “chimping.”

I’d develop the new work and look at everything closely. What are your successful pictures? What are your failures? That’s the most important thing. Select a few pictures, not everything that is sharp because that’s not culling, and work on post production. I know that some people make a big deal of saying “this is straight from the camera,” but, that’s nonsense.

Then, study some more, make more picture and do it again. And, again. And, again.

That’s the secret. Hard work.

I said that I talk to you about backyard pictures. Well, this picture is one of them. I walked outside around the blue hour and looked up. Believe or not, I didn’t do much to it in post except enhance what I saw. I did go further but the warm colors started turning electric. Like neon signs in the cool blues. That didn’t work for me. This did.


Scary looking.

This is an accidental picture.

I wasn’t even thinking about looking for a picture. I looked up and thought “this doesn’t look good.” I did what I could to stop it. I froze time. That’s my magic power. That lasted all of the 1/500th of a second. The clouds kept moving. So did I.

I’ve been having a discussion with another photographer about image making and photography in her comments. I’m not sure we are n the right track. What really matters is vision. I doesn’t really matter how you get there. I try very hard to make a statement about my vision in a particular picture. Today’s picture is meant to inspire awe in nature. Maybe even a little fear. I could have gone an entirely different direction and turned the picture into something light and frothy. That wouldn’t be what I felt when I looked up and saw giant storm clouds rolling in over the horizon.

Even with my post production, which is a huge part of image making, you might not see the scene as I saw it. After all, we all make our own meaning from art.

This is all part of a much longer discussion for another time.

The picture. I looked up and saw those massive clouds. I made a good base exposure knowing full well that the result was headed for post production. I experimented a lot with different approaches and settled on one that approximates real life. It’s a little bluer than real life. That helps you to understand how I saw things at the time.


Smaller than you think.

Now that I’ve been seeing things again…

I see everything. Little things. Tiny things. Details of huge things.

This little weed — at least that’s what’s it’s called by people who manicure their lawns — is smaller than a U.S. dime. That’s our ten-cent piece to those of you who don’t speak in American English. A cent is like… oh, never mind. ūüôā

I think of these so-called weeds as just another flower. In nature. Like all flowers, they are built to spread pollen and therefore, themselves. They may hurt the greenness of some people’s lawns, but they don’t hurt me. Or, most other people.

This all came to me while I was watching a bit of a CBS new program called 60 Minutes. It was a rather long story that dealt with animal genetics, how to breed better animals, how to have an adoptee raised by other animal parents and whether less genetically endowed animals should be given some kind of birth control.

Of, fer gosh sakes. (This is a family blog)

Animals have been taking care of their own needs for years and years and years. They did it well before humans thought we needed to help them procreate. Or not.

This is technology and data run amok.

Of course, this is being written by a guy who dislikes zoos and roots for the animal when some dummy trying to prove something stands on a fence and falls into the lion pit. What can I say? I get along with alligators. And, lawyers.

The picture. I’d like to say it’s something the dog saw. But, she was busy. Taking care of one of her needs. I made it with my “ancient” iPhone 6 that has a kind of telephoto-macro function in the camera ever since the last patch or two of the latest operating system was installed. It’s not exactly macro and the picture did take a bit of cropping to get it where I wanted it to be, but it worked out fine for Storyteller.


Japanese Maples.

Another tree picture.

Japanese Maples glowing in the morning sunlight.

Spring holds nothing but surprises for me. I wouldn’t have been aware of this picture if I hadn’t been out walking. That’s the thing. My best pictures are made with “boots on the ground.” Every time. Every day.

There really isn’t much to add. See the picture. Watch how the light falls. Make the picture. For the record, the first time I ever saw the word “make” as it pertains to pictures came from an interview with the late, great Ansel Adams. He thought “take” was too aggressive especially as it referred to his work. So too with the current word, “capture.” I don’t capture anything. I make a photograph. Or, I make a picture.

There.


Autumn, the second growing season at the train yard.

The bell.

You know the one. The one tolling. As in, “For whom it tolls. ”

It’s tolling for us. In Southeastern Louisiana.

I actually have been out and about a little. I went to one of my favorite places. An old train yard. Where there really are old trains. As in the one in the background. An old standard passenger car. This one is a baggage car.

Look at that day.

Bright. White puffy clouds. What you can’t know from the picture is that we have entered the “perfect weather” season. Temperatures in the very low eighties, with a slight breeze and low humidity. This is the weather that keeps a lot of us here.

But, there is that bell. Tolling away.

It’s our turn now. There have been hurricanes all around us. Texas. Florida. The Caribbean. Cuba. Puerto Rico. We have been counting our lucky stars. Praising The Lord. Singing hallelujah.

Now comes Hurricane Nate.

A tropical storm that has already hit the Yucatan Peninsula and is speeding through The Gulf of Mexico. Currently, every possible computer model has it hitting us dead on, as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane. It could also settle down and make landfall as a tropical storm.

And, we thought we were going to skate through one of the most active storm years in recent memory. Ha! Besides, it’s been five years since we were hit by Hurricane Isaac. We need a good storm every few years, whether we want one or not.

I have to do a few things to prep. But, we are always prepared this time of year. The good news, during a week of mostly horrible news, is that it’s a late season storm. The gulf has cooled down some so there’s less water generated energy. And, when we lose power (not a matter of if), the temperature won’t be so brutally hot.

Hurricane Nate should make landfall around 1 am Sunday morning.

We’ll have rain throughout most of Saturday as it arrives. It is a fast-moving storm. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, it should have passed into Mississippi.

Electrical power. That’s another story. It could be a few hours or a few days or even a few weeks before that is restored. Or, maybe we’ll get lucky. Nah. That’s too much to expect. We’ll be BBQing¬†breakfast.

The picture. Pretty much as you see it. It was a beautiful day when I was out and about. I made the finished picture look that way.

 


Under strange skies.

An alternative reality.

Yes. That’s what we are living in, and have been for a long time. Watching Ken Burns’ Vietnam series reminded me of that. There certainly was no transparency then. Apparently, every president including Kennedy knew the war was unwinnable. Yet we continued to pour troops and money into a corrupt country’s government.

Now we have the current presidential administration saying that all is good news in Puerto Rico. We’ve finally made a move. Meanwhile the people on the ground are still begging for help. Splitting the difference are the people saying there are huge stores of goods on airfields and in ports waiting to be delivered because there are no drivers and trucks.

Let’s accept the last comment. Shall we? It’s sort of believable enough.

Isn’t that what the U.S. military and National Guard are good at doing? Moving troops and vehicles anywhere around the world? Clear out the airport and the U.S. is capable of flying planes large enough to deliver tanks if that’s what is needed. Now, a general is running things on the ground. Let’s just see what happens.

I didn’t intend to go off on this tangent today.

This is supposed to be “Fabulous Funny fairytale Friday.” That’s why I made this picture into some kind of art. Into something that can’t be seen by the human eye. Into something that only a few people can see. Originally, the picture was a flower reaching into the bright New Mexican sky. The flower is still reaching. But, that’s no earthly sky that I ever saw.


Looking like a little art.
Looking like a little art.

I thought that I would take one of the ¬†“dead flowers” pictures a little further. That was about the extent of my labor on this Labor Day holiday. Oh, we did other stuff. I’ll share some of that later when all the “I’s” are dotted and the “T’s” are crossed.

Meanwhile.

This picture. The basic file is a pretty good by itself. Then I took it a little further. I do that a lot. No reason not to. Pictures don’t just come out of the camera exactly as you intend. When some photographers say things like, “This picture was not Photoshopped in any way,¬†”¬†I start wondering why. Why would anybody care? I don’t know about you, but I really only care about the end result. Getting there is the photographer’s business.

First, with the exception of about three or four cameras, the technology used to produce the image creates a slight softness. There is a filter that keeps certain patterns from creating a moire effect on the file. The pictures have to be sharpened slightly to remove the by-product of the filter.

Second, if you shoot in JPEG¬†and use a picture right from the camera, it has already been “Photoshopped” in the camera. Of course, Photoshopping has become a¬†general term for post production work sort of like Kleenex is a general term for a tissue. That’s one great argument for shooting RAW images and working on the picture in some kind of post production software. You control what the final picture looks like.

Third, most¬†people who look at pictures today might not know many photographers’ names, but they do know Ansel Adams’ name. He is probably as iconic as they come. Not only did he want his pictures to look like¬†his mind’s eye saw them when he took them, but he created an entire system to do that. The Zone System. It began with making a proper exposure in the field, developing the film and making the print. That’s a real simple outline of what he did. In order to read about it, you have to work your way through three — admittedly small — books. It isn’t all that complicated, but it takes time to¬†learn about it. It takes even more time to do it. And, you have to be precise. How many “digital” photographers are precise?

Fourth, a lot of photographic thinkers are saying that with the advent of the digital age, everybody can take pictures. Few can make them. Those who do make them are using all available technology to take the pictures they make way beyond the what is considered to be the norm.

And, why not?

Think about how pictures were made in the early to mid 1800s. Think about how the photographs evolved as the technology evolved. This particular art is wound around the technology. It always was. It always will be.

There’s more. There always is. That’s enough for today.

Oh, one more thing. All that I’ve just written is fine for every picture other than photojournalism or documentary. Those genres must not be tampered with, other than a little sharpening and what those practitioners call toning.