Thursday, May 29, 2014

Selfies, Selphy, Self

My very first selfie taken in Mexico, 2013
I cannot take selfies…I cannot tell a lie. First, it never occurs to me that I want a picture that I am in. After all, I have an image in my head of what I look like and I feel perfectly fine until faced with irrefutable proof that it is wrong. Second, it’s hard to hold a heavy camera out far enough and I still end up with more chins than are necessary. Third, I actually don’t have a smart phone. I have a cell phone that has actual individual buttons that I have to actually individually press and so there is no screen where I can see what is in the picture if what I want in the picture is in front of the lens. So, I can only guess and apparently my self image also has a very different idea of my location than reality will confirm and so I am rarely even in the photo even if I try to be.

I’m not one of those people who refuses to be in photos because my hair isn’t right or my makeup isn’t on. I just don’t want to take those pictures for myself. Other people can see very clearly what I look like and so accept a photo of me as something that actually reminds them of me, whereas I cannot see me and am perfectly happy remembering what other people look like and what I felt like while I was taking their picture. Someone, who shall remain nameless, took a picture of me while I was joking about taking selfies with a big camera and then had the nerve to post that photo on Facebook and it was exactly the photo I have in mind when I think about bad photos. It’s all upper arms and double chins combined with it looking like I actually take photos of myself with a telephoto lens.

Self Portrait in Gatewood @ UNCG
I will now spend the rest of my life indoors.

But, I won’t suffer for it because now I have the cutest little photo printer ever: the Canon Selphy. Since I only have about 10,000 more photos from Mexico that I need to print and put in my photo albums that should keep me busy roughly until the earth crashes into the sun. The only thing I can’t figure out is how to send the pictures directly from my computer to the printer. Instead, I have been putting them on a memory card and then moving that from my computer to the memory card slot on the machine. I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to fix that though because I am so excited to print that I can’t be bothered.

The printer uses a dye sublimation process for printing and the quality is fantastic. It pulls the little piece of paper through four times, the first time it prints all of the yellows, the second pass prints all of the magenta, and the third prints all of the cyan. Then it goes through a final pass where it lays down a semi-gloss clear finish that keeps the pictures from smudging or scratching…et voila! The kids are really enjoying watching it because you can see the picture after each pass so it’s like watching it appear – almost like the fun of old school developing but without the chemicals from that which cause cancer (it’s probably just a whole new batch of cancer causing chemicals…) So far I have printed 100 images and it’s still going strong – it is also super easy to load paper and ink and hardly takes up any space at all. That’s the size I needed too since I hardly have any space at all…you know because I have things to strew all over my desk.
First Photo in Self Portrait Project

I renewed my subscription to because I missed the tutorials. Yesterday I watched on of The Practicing Photographer tutorials with Ben Long. He outlined an interesting project that I would like to do if I could just come up with an idea. It’s a year long project that requires me to pick a frequency (daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) a scope (anywhere, my city, my neighborhood, my yard, my chair, etc.) and a subject (an object, a color, a cliché, an emotion, etc.) Then, I would have to carry that out and at the end of the year I would have a pretty interesting collection of images…if I had any ideas. Right now, I’m drawing a blank.

Self Portrait #2: Hands
The only thing I keep coming back to are self-portraits because I hate the way I look in most photos, because I am always available to me, because people are interesting subjects, and because I will be extremely patient. I could mess around with lighting, makeup, costume, setting, etc. I think I would just like some more parameters for myself, but maybe if I just start doing it, the things I need to try will become more apparent. What I don’t want are a series of my face in the camera, filling the frame. I’m not interested in watching my face change over time like those series that some people have done (which are amazing, just not what I’m trying to focus on here). I’m more interested in the self-portrait as a subject. I found this fantastic compilation of 100 seriously cool self-portraits - there's a lot of interesting things to think about!

Hmmm…maybe I’ve just had my idea, right here.

You’re such a good listener!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

MayDay: Warning...Opinion Included

This morning I got a message that there was going to be a stop in Greensboro on the 'Give America a Raise' Bus Tour in support of raising the minimum wage. I had just finished reading about the filibuster that prevented the vote that would have raised it from $7.25 to $10.10 - a vote that would have been in its favor. I've heard all the arguments about why this would be bad...but frankly, I don't buy them. In any case, I thought it might be a good photo opportunity and so I dragged my comfortably resting husband into the car and across town. 

I was entertained/irritated to see that there is a billboard truck that is apparently following the Give America a Raise Bus around the country. I won't reiterate its rhetoric because it isn't worth validating, but I did wonder how much the driver of the billboard truck was being paid. The event this morning was attended by a number of religious leaders from a wide variety of faiths. There were also some workers there who spoke about trying to live life on minimum wage as well as a speaker from Americans United for Change. A bishop suggested that all the millionaires in the US be asked to spend some time living on $7.25 an hour and see just how long it was before the legislation passed. Everyone seemed to agree that even $10.10 wasn't going to be enough but at least it was a step. 

Shalief Johnson, Worker
I spoke to one of the leaders of the faith-based component of the rally, Reverend Hamlin  from the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative and she asked if I could be convinced to travel to Raleigh that afternoon to photograph the rally there. Pepe couldn't come with me to that one because, legally, someone has to pick up our children at their after school care or they (the after school care) get very cranky. 

When I arrived in Raleigh it looked like it might start to rain but the air was refreshing and the wind was fabulous, so it felt good to be there. It had been hot in Greensboro and I had lathered up with sunscreen so as to not burst into flames during the Raleigh event, but it turned out to not be necessary. I felt that my being engulfed in flames might distract from the event's core message.

The Raleigh event was also attended by religious leaders who spoke eloquently and passionately about the human rights issues at stake. The anti billboard truck was there and the driver had pulled it up to park behind the speakers, thinking he would then be in all of the video coverage. The guy who drives the Give America a Raise Bus though seems to be part of his vehicle and he lithely scooted it just between the billboard truck and the speakers, providing a beautiful, vivid back drop.

Religious Leaders in Greensboro Supporting $10.10
This actually turned out to be a paying gig, which is pretty exciting and I'm working on the photos right now, but I wanted to write about them on May 1st. Mayday - and it is needed. I make a lot more than minimum wage (for now) but it still keeps me on my toes. I can't imagine working and still being desperately poor. My feeling has been that if businesses can't afford to pay a decent wage, then they shouldn't hire people. Go out of business if you can't do it, that's the deal. If we are going to plunge people into debt to pay for school then it seems bizarre that we are also willing to suppress their wages to assist business. At what point do PEOPLE get to be in the position of first priority? 

While I'm on this - education should be free, then students could be students and they wouldn't have to work and they wouldn't compete with people who need jobs thus driving down the wages and fracturing the worker's movement. As for this idea that jobs will be lost, again, it's the ones that we can stand to lose that will go and the rest we just might have to pay what it's worth for. I guess we could get up to 100% employment if the wage were $0.10 an hour but how is that kind of employment helpful? It's just a meaningless number. I want to know about the percentages of employment that pays a living wage, when will we get those numbers down?

Finally, I always feel like the anti-minimum wage argument is a bit like being in an abusive relationship. I spent six years with a man who told me that he treated me badly for my own good, to help me better myself; that if I didn't like it, he could always find someone else younger (and cheaper) who would; that no one else would take me and I'd be alone for the rest of my life. I believed him for a long time but you know what? It turns out he was a filthy liar. He just wanted everything for himself and if it meant he had to build his joy on the destruction of mine, then so be it. And when I left, it turned out that the world didn't collapse, I didn't spend the rest of my life alone, and I didn't need him at all. 

So, enough with the threats of pending impoverishment. If we don't pay a living wage, we've got all the impoverishment we can handle. I say: It's time to leave the bastards who tell you that you aren't worth it and realize that you are beautiful and valuable and powerful. 

It's not going to be easy...but it's definitely going to be worth it.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Nude Pantyhose and Alien Skin

It's like this with me, drought and then flood. I know I just finally posted yesterday but I've been thinking since then. Some of what I have been thinking has been, "Why the heck can't my kids learn not to slam the door?" But that's not really all that relevant here. 

My other thought was this: Do you remember when there was a crayon color called 'nude' and it was supposed to be flesh tone, only flesh comes in so many different tones that it really wasn't particularly similar to what most people see when they are nude? The same thing used to be a name for pantyhose. Helpful if you were as certain shade of Caucasian but didn't know how to match it just by looking at the color but not a great marker for match for anybody else. I'm not about to wax nostalgic for those days, instead, they helped me frame something that I've only just realized. A sort of blinding flash of the obvious.

Different skin tones require different exposures and different filters and affects. I've been using this great PhotoShop plug called Alien Skin in and it tells me that a particular Kodak Portra film was low contrast and therefore great for good looking skin in portraits. Generally, the people I shoot portraits of are members of my family who, although we are each a different nude, are on the lighter end of the spectrum. Yesterday, I shot at a rally attended by a broad spectrum of dark to light skin and when I was working with the images later, I applied the low contrast filter and just felt that the pictures looked dead. That's when I realized that the filter that says it is good for portraits really meant that it was good for portraits of light-skinned Latinos and Caucasians. It simply forgot that there are people who are darker than that who also might want to look good in pictures. 

It threw me for a loop.

I played around with a lot of different filters and realized that the low contrast film filters make dark brown skin have a grayish undertone - an unhealthy one. It clears up the red from white faces (or as my daughter calls them pinky faces) but is disastrous otherwise. I have done almost all of my work in black and white up until now and so I was really focused on contrast rather than color but maybe one of the reasons I have like black and white so much is that I couldn't ever get the right feeling when the faces are brown. 

This caused me to think back to a lesson I saw on - I wish I could remember who had given it - about portrait photography. This particular photographer was using an Indian model and shooting in natural light outdoors. He mentioned that he generally underexposed a bit for darker skin because otherwise it tended to overexpose and lose its rich beauty. I also found in post processing that each time I figured the exposure, I had to move it back down about 1/3 of a stop or the skin just became shiny and plastic.

It also made me think about old movies and old paintings where people of color were depicted and something was just a bit 'off' about them, something I just couldn't put my finger on until I realized that they had used white models or white actors and then just dolled them up with the superficial trappings - generally something to shape the eyes or just face paint. It never looked right but I guarantee you that those painters and directors hadn't spent anytime contemplating the faces of Latinos or First Nations people or Africans. I have really been doing the same without thinking about it. Just as I had been doing without really thinking about it - assuming that a visual representation of the very surface which marks us would be the same despite the difference. 

I need more information. A beginning search on Google led me to a really interesting essay by Monte Zucker called "Photographing People of Color." It turns out my approach is still not right and it's going to take a lot more looking to really get this right. Recognizing this lack of skill on my part was a first step, realizing that other people have begun to talk about it was another step. The camera can't do everything, the photographer has to know what she is doing AND she has to remember to really see what or who she is looking at.

The institution of portrait photography needs to be broken open a little bit so that rules about how to photograph people really means all people. We need to talk about the gradient that exists not as an exception (which makes being 'white' the 'norm') but as a state of existence in which we will always find ourselves and that we would be foolish to ignore if we want our portraits to reflect the individual that can be clearly seen without them. 

Never let a photograph get in between you and an opportunity to see someone beautiful.