Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Star is Born…and Then Jumps on the Bed

Yesterday's portrait shoot with Violet and a tungsten construction lamp was very successful. She is just such a gorgeous little girl (yes, I know she's mine so I'm biased, but it's simply a fact). I took 151 photos and ended up picking 10 of them to work with. She's very patient and follows directions so easily - and then has her own ideas about how she would like to sit, so it's really a very fun mother/daughter activity as well. She wants to help out in post-production, but I'm not really sure how to share that with her just yet. An added benefit of all of this is that she finally let me brush her hair and put it up - generally the shower is a struggle enough but then the idea that I could brush her hair is just more than she can stand. She's so sensitive about it, but when she knew she was getting gussied up for pictures, she barely complained at all. I should just tell her there are hidden cameras at school, then maybe the teachers wouldn't think she was a small homeless child whose mother didn't know any better. Maybe.

The location is the guest bedroom with neutral blankets over the bed. It's not ideal because there are pictures hanging on the wall and I never noticed how spotty the wall is until I was really looking at these pictures. The other reason why that is not an ideal location is because when this house was built apparently the builder's figured that insulation in that room was an unnecessary luxury and so it's generally only about 10 degrees warmer in the room than it is outside. Definitely would not want to have a model come to take nude pictures there, I guess for many reasons. Especially a male model…

I read some portrait tips (yes, that's the level I am at right now) on the Digital Photography School website. It always seems so obvious when you are reading things like '10 helpful portrait tips' but then you realize how much there really is to consider and that you have control over. It's very helpful because otherwise, you don't really know what it is that you can manipulate in order to change the scene the way that you want to. 

I also spent some time yesterday putting my flickr pictures into more groups so that they can be seen by more people. I'm not really sure how that helps, but I feel like it's all part of this self promotion activity that I'm trying to wrap my head around. I really wish I had figured out that I wanted to think about and do photographic work when I was younger and could have studied it under someone, gone to some program, or something. It's really hard just floating around by yourself. So, I'm just trying to consume as much information as possible.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Old Photos and New Portraits

Well, having accomplished my two other goals this morning, I am now ready to blog away. 

Goal number one was to explain to my son what sex is because he has been playing a game called Sims Freeplay in which, after two characters fall in love, there is an option for him to have them 'woohoo.' They get all blurry and it's not like you can see anything happening, but he wanted to know what woohoo was. So I told him in a very matter of fact way - the whole discussion took about a minute (including his question about whether or not his father and I had ever done anything so gross…answer: of course not - you were a virgin birth…) It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had expected, I had been dreading having this conversation but it turns out it's just not that difficult to explain and they really just aren't that interested in knowing anything in particular about it. So, we just ended with me saying that if he ever had any questions about any of it he should feel free to ask and that one day when he felt like doing something like that, he should make sure that he knows all about pregnancy and other related things so he could make the best decision. Whew.

Goal number two was to get my daughter off the computer because she was playing muffin games. There is this fantastic website that my brother showed us a couple of years ago that has really cute videos and a couple of interactive games on it. It was made for a thesis project by an animation student and it's bizarrely addictive. It has some sayings and cadences that have just become part of the way our family talks to each other. You [oh member of my vast readership] should check it out.

So, having gotten her off the computer and, albeit briefly, outside. She is now taking a bath so we can move on to my other goal which is to take her picture in an artificial setting with artificial lighting. She is such a willing subject and relatively uninhibited, so I can get her to jump up and down or hang upside down or hold a rat or whatever I want to try all while shining hot lights on her in a cold room. I did a practice run yesterday in that same cold room with my husband who is incredibly patient. He has these floodlights that he uses for construction when he is working at night. They are really bright and the room isn't that large, so there were limited options with the lights, but since I had never tried taking pictures with an artificial lighting setup before (except for once when I shined…shone?…shined?…shindeded? a flashlight on Pepe's face for a couple of shots). I think I learned some things from the exercise yesterday and am pleased with the way a couple of the portraits turned out. He's such a handsome guy but usually I can't get pictures of him that look as good as he does, but he was really natural yesterday since I wasn't asking him to pose, just to sit around while I took pictures. 

One of the things that I have found very interesting about the photographs in the 20th century photography book has been that strong, directional lighting in the really intense portraits. It doesn't give you as much detail sometimes, but it reveals more of the structure and a lot more of the character of the sitter. Sometimes it's hard to not just make everything in perfect focus with even lighting because it's possible, but that would be letting myself just default to a technical possibility rather than making a conscious creative decision.

Another project I am working on is restoring a bunch of really old photographs of my great-great-great grandparents and other damaged family photos. Some of them are amazingly clear while others there seems to be hardly any detail that was captured at all. I'm just kind of blundering through doing this because I don't really know how to make the photos look new again. They certainly do look better once I've done with them than they did to start with, but I wish I could do more. I have been very impressed by some of the antique photos that artists have taken and colorized so that they look like photos that could have been taken yesterday. 

Here are some of the before and after images from the photos I have been working on:

My great-aunt Daisy when she was a baby (obviously). This was a hard picture to work with because there wasn't any good detail in her dress or her chin. I'm still not happy with the chin, but at least her hands are visible and the giant spots are off her face. 

My great-great grandfather Jacob P. Hummel who worked for the railroad right up until he died. In fact, this picture was taken when he was 82, about 2 weeks before he died in 1916. This picture didn't have much damage, just some facing and loss of detail, but it came out pretty well.

This is my great-great-grandmother Sarah Hummel (wife of Jacob P. above), another photo without significant damage, more just fading and some spotting. I was able to really punch up her dress and bring the presence back to the photo, so I'm pretty pleased with it. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Oldest Child Prodigy

I've finally figured it out. I am a child prodigy. I mean, if you think about my abilities in terms of what a 5 or 6-year-old might do, I'm really quite amazing. I'm just a bit of a late bloomer, that's all. I don't see any reason why being 3-(mumble) years old should preclude me from being considered a child prodigy. Just look at my sense of humor! Fart jokes galore! So there.

My lamp, midmorning
(Lamp made by Claudia Aguilera, MFA
graduate of UNCG Interiors program 2013)
Anyway. My parents got me a book called 20th Century Photography, sort of a dictionary of photographers each with at least one example of their work and a bit of a bio + surface analysis. I'm really enjoying it - I've got some things I want to try shooting after looking at some of the work. I think it would be interesting to restage some of the more famous photos with objects or people from street photographs or something. I am letting that idea percolate…On the other hand, the I've always told my students that the word 'interesting' is rarely the adjective that you want people to use when describing your work (or your cooking…or child rearing techniques…) Maybe that's only true when you are doing things that have practical end results though. Maybe sometimes art should be interesting - after all, that's what I want from a book or an idea or a play. At its core, I want it to be interesting. After that, anything else is just icing. Things have to be interesting before all else (although not in the same way and not in that surface way that people would misinterpret me meaning, if anybody were reading this.)

I'm really impressed by these photographers who can stage wonderful shots. I cannot figure out how to get good images out of anything staged, I have to rely on wonderful things happening while I'm around. This makes it somewhat difficult here in uber-sub-urban Greensboro where there aren't a lot of things to look at. There are still things here, but it's not like being in Mexico or on the back roads of Southwestern VA. It's just sameness and absence. Nobody is to be seen and anything that is to be seen exists within the bounds of mediocrity, trimmed, pruned, mutely colored, and utterly superficial. Maybe this is something that will actually strengthen my abilities. On the other hand…

It does give me time to organize the images I have collected and to work with them. When I was in Mexico, it was akin to unraveling a cloth with one hand while weaving with the other. I would finish working with one image and have 260 new ones I had created that day that needed to be culled and sorted and contemplated. 

Maybe a triptych on boredom would be just interesting enough to make me feel productive while doing the useful but unglamorous work of organizing my work. Ooh, that sounds just pretentious enough to work!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Failing Isn't An Option, It's a Requirement

What's this? Another post? Two in one day? Oh what a lucky day! Caloo, callay, oodalally, etc.

Failing is part of the process, and I am processing it up . I just got a notice from a show I submitted to at the PhotoPlace Gallery in Middlebury, VT regretting to inform me that my work was not chosen for inclusion. The show is called Imagined Realities and they have put up the 40 works that were selected for the show and the 35 to be included in the online annex - they had just under 2,000 pieces submitted, so the competition was pretty fierce. The work they have chosen is really beautiful and I'm hoping that I can learn by looking at it closely.

This latest notice, which I have to keep reminding myself is really at what I hope is only the very beginning of my involvement in photography, made me think that it might be important to document and understand the failure. I seem to fail very well. I don't mean that as a poor-me statement, instead I started to wonder if I shouldn't examine it a bit more closely and see what it means.

My first response as I think about this was, of course, to mope a bit and decide I am good at nothing, etc. but that's just depressing and I don't need any help with that.

So, second (and other) thoughts: 

I fail a lot because I try a lot of new things. I love to learn new things and I will try things even when people tell me (show me video footage of) why I shouldn't. 

I also fail a lot because I am impetuous and impatient (and impish…just to continue the alliteration). I hear about something and I want to go ahead and try it right now, even if I don't have the right stuff. I'm not sure where the impishness comes in…in fact, I think that might just be a failure at adjective selection. Hmmmm…

Without getting sappy, I think that failure really is only something that can happen when there is some moment in which a particular thing/experience/location reaches a time in which it only has two states: yes or no, on or off. It has to be a thing you are trying to get, not a process and I really love process. However, my impatience leads me to want the thing already to be done with it because I've just seen something else I want to leap into. I'm sort of like a cat - I can stare at a spot on the wall for hours and have everyone amazed by how fixed I can be on something, but then the slightest movement in my periphery and I'm off tearing around the house for no particular discernible reason. At least I don't have fleas.

I expect to be able to master something if I just try hard enough and that's just not always true. We tell people that they can do anything they want and that simply isn't the case. There are somethings that require determination and grit (I think that means that you are supposed to skip a shower for them) and others that are simply too late to start (i.e. being a child prodigy, that moment has passed for me), too outside of your skill set (giving people directions to my house), or require time or other resources that just aren't available to me (traveling around the world in a hot air balloon). 

Rita Rudner said something which has become the true motto for my life, "If I can't be a good example, I can at least be a horrible warning." I think that might be part of what makes me interesting, people seem to enjoy listening to my stories, most of which do not end with me saving the day (Tuesday), getting the girl (would be awkward for Pepe), and vanquishing the villain (who oddly enough turns out to be tooth decay). This doesn't mean that I don't regret some (many) of the things that I have done - unfortunately, it also doesn't mean that I've really learned and grown from all of them either; sometimes they are just good material.

So far, I have failed to:

  • Build a school in Ghana that would help educate generations of school students and cause no cultural conflicts or need any ongoing maintenance
  • Teach myself how to warp an 8 harness loom and then weave on it
  • Reconstruct a 19th century floor loom
  • Write a book about the history of interiors (but who hasn't failed at that really?)
  • Win a photography contest
  • Get accepted to a juried show
  • Get a job at Harvard (or an interview, or a letter of response, or a retraction of the restraining order…)

Okay, it could go on. Today I failed to pick out matching socks. 
In any case, during all of this failure, I have:

  • made some awesome crochet things
  • found out that knitting isn't really for me, I just like the casting on part
  • learned the heck out of PhotoShop
  • taken pictures that I really like
  • read books about amazing photographers
  • gotten a purple belt in Taekwondo (which my autocorrect really wants me to change to the word 'teakwood') at Defensive Martial Arts (is that shout out that my mom might read worth a discount?)
  • traced my family history back to the 1100s
  • travelled to Australia and gone scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef
  • sung in a mariachi band
  • scratched the head of various penguins at the San Francisco zoo
  • performed at a piano bar in Austin, TX

None of those things have led me to fame or fortune, but they were awesome and we've just got that until we die. So, now I'm going to pay attention to my failure for a bit and see if it leads me to any insight. Or to any wine.

Why I am Not Yet [insert adjective here]

I am having a hard time focussing…not that this is new for me, but usually it is because I am overwhelmed with things I want to do. Today, I am feeling confused about whether or not the things I am doing are just ways of wasting time. I do know that I should stay off of because I can look at goats knocking over children all day long and I'm pretty sure that's not going to get me anywhere. 

I couldn't think of anything to go out and shoot, so I shot myself. 

I think that could be the sentence that gets me arrested. 

I always enjoy flattening multiple reflections - it's one of the most interesting transformations of a two-dimension art. I guess if I'm enjoying something, it can't be a waste of time.

The Hand magazine announced its selected artists yesterday and (drum roll) I was not one of them. Sad face. They had 74 artists enter and selected about 15 for the magazine. I looked through the work of those they had selected and I am looking forward to getting my copy of the magazine to see both the overall product and the individual's works. 


When will there be universal recognition of my genius? Mwahahahaha…ahem. Excuse me.

On another note, I spent a couple of days last week printing the rest of my photos for the exhibit at the Multicultural Resource Center at UNCG. It was really amazing to see the images on paper and some of them I printed at a fairly large size. Now, I just have to build all of the frames for them and get them matted (*nervous high-pitched laugh*). That should be no problem? Right?!? I have a couple of them done and I really like the way they look when they are all finished - it's like they become official or something. 

If I get stuck for new activities, I guess I could always go back to kitty porn…

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Self Publishing [My Children Think I'm Famous]

I just got my first self-published book of photos in the mail from blurb. I got the small book, 7x7 because I wasn't sure what the quality of the printing would be like, but it came out really well, so now I think I'm going to do a bigger one. It's so much fun to see my photos in print, I've spent a lot of time looking at them on the computer, but it's just not the same. A couple of weeks ago one of my colleagues, Dickie taught me how to use the really nice Epson printers and since then I've printed about 15 of my photos on really nice papers in sizes from 8x8 to 22x19. It felt like watching magic as they came out of the printer and I love the way they look. 

I call the collection of photos from Mexico "This Is Not Wasteland" because it is really an exploration of the Mexico that so many people miss because they think it is scary. TS Eliot's Wasteland seemed a particularly appropriate backdrop for that creeping sensation of fear. Although if I'd wanted a broader audience I guess I could have called it "This Is Not the Walking Dead." 

I just got on Flickr to upload a new photo I've taken and I noticed that some people have put up a posting that says December 8 is Flickr's black day and that no one should post any new photos or should only post that black protest image on their stream that day to show opposition to the Beta version. I wish I had any idea what this was about. I googled it but all I can find are forums where people who clearly already understand what is going on either support or troll each other. I love a good protest movement, but I've also noticed that Flickr users can be a bit touchy. It feels odd not to have an opinion about this, I can usually form a passionate opinion about anything given only a moment's notice. Maybe I'm zen?

Photo I'm afraid to add to Flickr until I find out
if I'm adding to oppression or ignoring people who
need to get out more often.

 Last night Pepe and the kids and I went downtown for the Christmas celebration particularly inappropriately renamed the Greensboro Festival of Lights so that they didn't use the word Christmas. Apparently they didn't google that. It was really fun though. It was about 68 degrees and there were soap faux-snow (faux-snaux?) machines blowing and musicians and dance groups up and down the streets. The traffic was all diverted and there were hundreds of people walking in the street. I had my new camera with me (the Canon 6D and yes, I am name dropping intentionally) but I'm still not really familiar enough with it to get the shots I want as quickly as I could on my old camera. So, I missed some stuff, but I need to learn the new camera and the only way to do it is to use it . Plus, I don't think I'll ever have time to get all the pictures I want. I loved this display window for Golden Spiral Studio. Ever since I took the photos of the tattooed guys in Mexico I've wanted to get more photos of tattoos and the processes. Maybe I'll work up the courage to visit Golden Spiral.

Don Che
In two days submissions for a portrait photography exhibit are due and it seems like kind of a big deal. I'd like to submit, but I haven't gotten any feedback from any of the other submissions yet and I wonder if I'm just wasting money for something that I'm not up to par (yet?) on or if I have to just keep submitting. It's not that expensive, so I'll probably submit. I'm trying to figure out which images. The one I took of Don Che seems to be popular. I can pick 3 - maybe one of the tattoo guys.

If anyone is reading this and has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Honesty Is a Scary Policy

I am not certain exactly what I hope to achieve with a photography blog except that I read it is one of the 16 things that photographers should do to catapult their careers. Given what Mythbusters have demonstrated are the effects of a catapult on a human being, I'm not convinced this is going to be the boost I need, but rather than writing all the posts in my head, here they are.

I've been taking pictures with cool cameras since at least 15 but I wouldn't say that I was a photographer. In fact, I think I had a cool camera because it was the old one that my mom didn't use anymore and not because I sought one out. I've seriously enjoyed taking pictures for about 8 years now and would maybe start to call myself a photographer (but only in a small voice when no one is really paying attention) in the last year.

If you hear a whistling in the air while you read this, that is the wind created as I swing wildly back and forth between confidence in my abilities and total certainty of my lack. Cameras are amazing, filters are incredible, who doesn't take good pictures these days (I mean, if they want to?) Okay, I guess Anthony Weiner.

I just got a fancier camera because I was having image clarity envy, so now I will find out if that's really the big deal I was thinking it might be. I tend to like my photos blurry and grainy, but I want them to be that way because I choose it, not because that's as clear as it got. Since I've gotten the camera I haven't really been out much, so I took some pictures of my daughter (who works for food and shelter) and is, of course, the most beautiful girl in the world. If you can't take a good picture of her, it's because your camera is broken.

Violet Travels through Photographic History

Talk about planning ahead. Some photographers will spend hours setting up the lights and getting the scene just right. I started out 7 years ago by making my own model. Beat that.

Jack's View
Violet in the Trees

I also enjoy photo manipulation which I have seen called a number of different things. I think the term I like most is 'deviant art' but I've just always felt at home with that adjective. Manipulation seems selfish somehow, like how Mr. Burns would probably deal with images, "Dance, photo monkey!" These sometimes also involve my homemade models…

I entered some photos in the 11th annual Smithsonian photo contest (which I was surprised was free!) I also submitted some work to The Hand magazine which are under review for issue #3. Even if they don't get accepted, that covers the cost of that issue and it looks like a really cool magazine. Finally, I submitted some work to Vermont Photography Workplace which had a call for an exhibit called Imagined Realities. I'm curious to see what kind of reaction I get. I know that I should expect a whole bunch of rejections - I've read all of the stuff about people spending years submitting over and over and over again and not getting accepted and then winding up being acknowledged as brilliant. I'm not sure I have the strength to withstand all of the rejection on the off chance that it means I'm a genius and not just a mediocre photographer.

I was a finalist in the 2013 Best of Photography Contest in Photographer's Forum and although I was so excited that I squealed like a little girl and the finalist selection rate was 14% (out of over 10,000 submissions), I still have a sneaking suspicion that it's really just to get people to buy the $55 book. There goes the swinging again…

Guadalajara Bicycles - Finalist, 33rd Best of Photography
Contest, Photographer's Forum & Sigma

Finally, I feel like I should mention Mike Birbiglia because he said he has a program that looks for his name on the internet and lets him know when he is mentioned and I would like to let him know, in the most socially awkward way possible, that in comparison to the kinds of things that fall out of my mouth on a  regular basis, the things that he says are positively Frank Sinatra smooth.