Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Less Said ...

I just ran across this on Twitter:
J. K. Rowling's new revelations about "Harry Potter" make the books look worse in retrospect

The piece it links to (spoiler ... I think) says, in short, that as Rowling explains and reveals various details in the backstory to the Harry Potter universe, all she does is show how much material she left out and should have included, or perhaps that she is simply spinning out a lot of stuff that is just irrelevant.  Which got me to thinking about a couple of things on creative work.

One is the story of a Dadaist artist (IIRC), who when questioned about the meaning of one of his pieces, answered by reciting the alphabet. What he meant, I was told, was that it wasn't his job to impose meaning on the work, but that the viewer was meant to take his own meaning.  The art, in other words, meant whatever it meant for the viewer.

In another moment I remember from school, we were assigned to work on scripts for an English class.  The teacher explained at one point that one should be careful of adding too many instructions behind the spoken lines.  What would remain for the actor or director to interpret if every word comes with descriptions of how to deliver it?  (eg: Jack: (angrily) "I won't do it!")  As a matter of fact, the teacher said, look at Shakespeare's plays.  Aside from instructions to enter or exit ("exeunt" -- always loved that) and the occasional clamour in distance, there are virtually no instructions at all.  The writing itself should carry the meaning.

By corollary, Stephen King in his excellent little book, On Writing, wages war on adverbs, snatching away and murdering them, then burying the bodies without a trace on nearly every page.  And visually, there is a rule of thumb in television news that a well-shot and edited story can be presented with only hard cuts between each shot -- no dissolves or other fancy transitions to cover jarring changes of scene or jump cuts.  And if this is done right, the piece will move smoothly from one shot to the next.

So good art: make your point, present what you want.  Just do it and walk away.  It should speak for itself.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Accidental Art

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.
 - "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel

I was reminded when a clip of "Mrs. Robinson" played on the radio of how impressed I am with the lyricism of Paul Simon's work.  This first occurred to me when "Graceland" came out in 1986.  It's not that I was unfamiliar with his stuff before (How could anyone who lived in the 60s and 70s not be?) but that I first noticed how finely built the words in his songs were.

It's not that they are musical, or even poetic.  They seem to rise out of normal conversation, but in those moments of golden, accidental beauty that occasionally happens, phrases that flow so easily -- even when they are commonplace, or seem commonplace -- that they become musical.  It was while listening to the songs in "Graceland" that I first thought the Simon was actually an incredible writer of short stories who happens to set them to music.

Not to take anything from Simon -- I'm sure he labors mightily over ensuring just the right word lands in just the right place -- but this makes me think of what I've come to call "accidental art."  In my case, it usually comes in the form of things that have fallen in a perfect place, things that I find it hard, if not impossible, not to photograph.  This is one of the reasons I'm never to be seen without a camera, if not several of them.

Ironically, many of the pictures I make in these circumstances are done with the iPhone, because it's not only convenient but the right medium for the ephemeral purpose for me of many of these pictures.  I shoot 'em, put them on Facebook, and move on.  Others, however, are more permanent and either get shot with the Leica or double shot.

These columns, pulled off and stacked in front of a house undergoing renovation, were an irresistible subject to me for weeks, and I'm sure I will feel delight in their rediscovery when I finally process the film.

But the point here is: It's all accidental.  These things weren't placed or sculpted or planned.  They just fell where they did.  The art comes in the seeing of it, and then the capture.  Paul Simon could have overheard all those phrases in "Mrs. Robinson,"  but were they in that order?  And how the music slides with and compliments them ...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Meanwhile, On the Internet ...

"While I’m all in favor of this new world of media startups, where truly well-intentioned people are trying to figure out how the heck to make money from journalism on the Internet, I just need to step up right now and call bullshit on pretty much all the algorithms. Cause you guys just aren’t understanding the importance of a good writer."

So says Erin Biba, "a talented, experienced, smart  science writer."  As she explains, in her short, easy to read, and worthwhile post, "I love the idea of a new world of media that exists solely on the Internet. And I really, really want to be part of it. But I also want to pay my rent and feed my cat. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say I’m pretty irritated that I have to ask at all. Actually, screw that, I’m INSULTED by how much you’re trying to pay me. Or not pay me."

Of course, I'm doing this for free, so ...

Speaking of free, Maria Tornberg did a blog post a while back on that very subject.  "In the last week I have found myself in several very uncomfortable situations where I was asked to work for free. First by a person I know, the second time by someone I know a little less and the third time by a stranger," She starts.  "Yes, you heard right. I was approached by people who asked me to do a job, at a day and time suitable to them, without getting paid."

Her point is that we are undermining our own value.  "If you hire me, pay me, with money ... I have bills to pay. I have a company. I‘m an entrepreneur who happens to be an artist."

Finally, Mathew Ingram, referring to another piece, explained a while back that Journalism isn't evolving.  It's being totally replaced by things we don't think of as "journalism."

"On a local level," he says, by way of example, "a whole series of websites and services from LocalWiki or Everyblock to Pinwheel are providing people with information about their neighborhoods ... And many people are duplicating what they used to get from their newspaper by using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other platforms."

So I'm not sure where that money Tornberg hopes we'll get is coming from, at least in my case.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

On Writing

"I hate writing, I love having written."

There was another ugly gap in this blog recently.  Now, things were busy and I was moving (not to mention work, where I have taken on a massive project) but I also did promise not to do that again.  But here's the thing: I also want to do this right.

I'm now old enough, I think, to more appreciate the subtlety -- the deep, hard-to-describe, almost microscopic shades --  of things, and this can hardly apply more to anything than writing.

Lately, inspired by a friend's recent reading habits and aided by having to go through all my boxed up books, I have started rereading classic works of literature.  In the first encounter, I think, you can recognize something as great, as special.  I'm not saying that when younger we can't appreciate things, but so much of the world is new and fresh; the range of possibilities can be lost in the novelty of that first experience.

I wonder: As a general rule, what we consider "great literature" -- the classic novels, the truly timeless writing that has been proven such by the passage of time -- is wasted on the young.  In youth, we haven't experienced things personally to truly see and understand the depth, the tones of gray, the subtle range of color in great writing.  It's all too easy for us then to be impressed by flashy tricks or bored by less showy gradation.  Only in age do we appreciate the hard work in tiny changes, that there is one word that is the right word for that place.  All the others are not as good.

As an example, listen to the NPR story on some of the great poets of the 20th Century reading their work at the 92nd Street Y.  These are people who slaved over every word, every syllable.  Should a line end on a hard sound, or a soft sibilant one?  Did my joy in building that tiny little alliteration in the last sentence add, or just create a tautology?

Now, I don't think for a second that my blogging is ever going to reach the level of great writing -- I know I am no Samuel Pepys -- but I do want to do this well ... perhaps just to the level of being happy with it when I read it again in a year or so, having forgotten the details and moments that inspired it and the struggle that went into composing it.

But I promise I'll keep trying ... more frequently.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's Just Hair

So on Friday the Virginia Tech baseball team held a "Shave for the Brave" event, where team members had their heads shaved in solidarity with pediatric cancer victims ... and ideally to raise money for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

When Tara Wheeler, one of the anchors on the Fox 21/27 Morning News where I work, got the call to take part, I hear them ask her on the phone: "We know you shaved your head a few years ago for St. Baldrick's, so we won't ask you to do it, but maybe you could challenge someone on your show."  I'm standing there right in front of her, and her eyes raise up as she says, "Hey, Bruce, you wanna' get your head shaved?"

"Uh, sure."

Jennifer, my wife, posted an after picture of me on Facebook, and the "Likes" and supportive comments rolled in -- things like "very brave move" and "way to go."  That was pleasant and rewarding, but after a while I began to think: It's not like I really did anything.  I mean, it does open the conversation about contributing towards finding a cure for pediatric cancer, but that requires no particular sacrifice from me, and I'm very happy to say I have no particular experience the cause.  It's not like I'm actually working on a cure, or suffering in some way.  In the end, I just cut my hair.

So join with the baseball players at Virginia Tech (for whom losing their hair was I bet more jarring that it is for me) and give.  I'll take your admiration and comments on other stuff.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"We Will Rock You"

Max Raabe.

Found this the other day while looking around at other stuff.  I remember in high school, when it was first released, thinking -- as I still do -- that this and its companion, "We Are the Champions," were expressing remarkably fascist ideas.  In other words, the lyrics could be transferred wholesale to the mouth of a young Hitler and not seem out of place.

That's not to say I condemn the song or its sentiments; it simply is a statement of overcoming perceived injustice to a position of superiority -- "No time for losers, 'cause we are the champions."  And certainly the bizarre racial theories of Hitler and his fascists is totally absent.  It was just interesting to me that you could have performed it, probably to rousing cheers, in the beer halls of Munich in 1929.

Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester also fascinate me in general.  I happen to like 20s style music, but I also truly enjoy taking things out of context and looking at them again in a radically different way.

There's also an excellent version of Bohemian Rhapsody done as bluegrass ...

Monday, September 8, 2014

I Feel Awful

As moving has drawn to a close, I am exhausted and muscle sore, but that's not really the awful that I'm thinking of.

Part of my move -- and perhaps it should be part of every move -- is the dismissal and disposal of stuff.  It's the stuff that you've gotten over the years and have clung to for tenuous and amorphous reasons: old paperback books, random desk items, toys from childhood.  Sure, some can be precious and full of meaning, but most are things you just cling to.

In my case, this is often books.  It has become my standing joke that I have to get past the feeling that I am a monk in the Dark Ages, clinging to the last copy of Aristotle while ignorant peasants outside demand the paper to use as kindling.  The fairly obscure, but still common, history books and science fiction books are being preserved elsewhere.  I am not the last bastion of knowledge and cultural memory.

However, this came home with a wrench as we finally got into the ancient garages where many of my books were stored.  It was a damp place, and a number of boxes were placed against an outside wall.  Put simply, the books were furry with mold.  This meant I couldn't just, with a bit of regret, send them off to Goodwill or the local library.  They had to go to the dumpster as garbage, lost forever to everyone.

That was tough, but it still wasn't the worst.

Further back in the garage were my father's books.  50 years of higher education, a personal library collected with care and interest.  Like my books, they are generally obscure and surely are in libraries elsewhere.  Indeed, after moving to Lexington, he made contact with both Stanford (where he got his MA and PhD) and the University of Virginia to see if they would be interested in his papers and library.  Both reacted impassively.  If an educational institution can shrug a collective "Meh," this is what they did.

So we carried his books and papers from house to house as we spiraled deeper into financial disaster, as we carried mine.  All his papers and speeches, articles and books.  There was a box of nothing but diplomas and certificates of appreciation, framed and mounted for display.  And of course, the books -- boxes and boxes and boxes of books -- the physical representation of a lifetime of work, all of it both meaningless and deeply meaningful to me.

They were meaningless in that, to be brutally frank, they held no interest.  Most all were obscure tomes on various aspects of college administration and history.  They were meaningful in that they were to him what my books are to me, a collective physical representation of the mind and soul.  Now, they were moist and rotting, destroyed by a damp garage, not even worthy of charity.

I died little deaths as each came out, the box blue with mold, constantly threatening to disintegrate.  I focused only on the hope that the rotting cardboard would hold together long enough to make it to the dumpster.  The frustrating image of twenty pounds of books spraying across the ground, forcing me to toss them one by one, at least gave me something more productive to focus on.

They're all gone now, along with many of my books, old papers, toys and furniture.  I tell myself it was good, the sort of purging self-help types stell us so often is necessary.

Yet the worry and regret remain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No Time, No Time ...

I'm moving ... again.

It's chaotic, exhausting and endless ... again.

I'm beginning to panic, as I look at all the stuff remaining, and the shrinking number of days to get it out in ... again.

Perhaps, this is Purgatory: To constantly have no time, forever.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Termite

by Ogden Nash
Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good!
And that is why your Cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.

Ogden Nash was born 19 August 1902.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


trib·ute - ╦łtribyo͞ot
noun: tribute; plural noun: tributes  
1. an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.

I just discovered, in one of the books that we had brought to my father over the time he was in nursing home care, a note.  The book was To Make Ourselves a Home, a collection of stories his father -- my grandfather -- would tell the family about his early childhood in northern Canada.  As he ailed, my father had him write them down to occupy himself while bedridden.  The handwritten manuscript traveled with my father and then me from house to house until, with time on his hands in retirement, my father sat down and edited it.  We then had it produced as a book by our publisher as a Christmas present to him.

The note was a little piece of paper, handwritten by volunteers from Hospice who sat with my father as the end approached. "On Tuesday, vigil volunteer Lu Dooley read pp 1-35 out loud to Dr. Young," it said.  "Then Ted B read pp 36-49 to him -- although he appeared to be asleep the whole time."

It was a nice image for me to take with me, that as he drifted away, it was hearing the stories he had been told by his father as a child.

At this moment, I'm left to wonder what to say.  People come up sympathetically, telling me how sorry they are for my loss.  I don't know what to tell them: that I've been bracing myself for this moment for years -- since my Mom first developed Alzheimer's, since she died in 2007, since my Dad first showed signs of dementia or when he went into full-time nursing care?  I really don't know how to be satisfactorily distraught, how to give them what they're searching for, but I want to play my role so that they can go on with their lives feeling they have done their part.

However, I also want to show my father the respect he never properly received in life.  As I said when announcing his death on Facebook (and what a modern and inadequate thing that statement is), "He was a successful and frankly rather important man."  He reached the highest levels of his profession and saved and earned his way to become, at least technically, a millionaire, thus achieving the goals he set himself as a child.  Once, when we visited the campus of a university where he had been Dean of Students, he pointed out that all of his contemporaries now had buildings named after them.  There was no Kenneth Young Hall, however.

He gave me a comfortable life, one in which I was free to pursue an offbeat profession and start a business without the concerns and anxieties he suffered in youth.  For me, that was a spectacular gift which I never adequately repaid.

So now he's gone, and I still don't know what to say (though I seem to have spun out a lot of text doing it).

It was my father who told me that, at the end of every funeral, there's always somebody who says, "What's for lunch?"  His point was that life goes on, no matter how tragic and central the loss. A resolutely logical man, I have no doubt that he, like I, would simply march on, going to work and getting the minutia of life handled.  When his father died after a long battle with heart valve problems at 48, I think he (then only in his 20s) acted similarly ... though oddly we never really talked about it.

He was and is a huge influence.  As shown above, I cite him regularly, and I hope never to forget the moments when I received the wisdom that I cite, but I also hope to always have the man close to mind, as if I had just spoken with him.

"As a day well spent brings blessed sleep,
So a life well lived brings a blessed death."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And now a word from our other blog ...

Because I'm awfully happy with this picture:

That's David Chaltas, who does a living history first-person interpretation of Robert E. Lee, speaking at a rally protesting the removal of Confederate battle flags from Lee Chapel, where the Southern leader is buried.

I put a lot more pics from the rally, and a bit of reporting, on the "phlog," Guy with a Leica.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Life Is A Boat ... "

“Life is like stepping onto a boat which is about to sail out to sea and sink.”
Shunryu Suzuki

I like this for a number of reasons.  I like the structure, like that of a good joke, where it seems to lead you down one path before revealing that you're somewhere totally unexpected.  I like how it gives you the optimism of adventure and new experience before slapping you in the face with reality.  Then comes the realization that this is indeed a Zen saying -- life is a struggle, death is just a transition.  I like how it mirrors one's maturing approach to life: eager at first for the experience, then caught up in the journey, and finally simply tired and ready for a rest.  And I like that it shows that everything changes.

Change.  Just last night I heard somebody say, "Nobody likes change."  Normally, I'd disagree, but right now I can't.

Sometimes, once we get things ticking along in a system, even if it's a system built to handle problems, one begins to wish that nothing would ever change.  The well working cycle could just keep ticking along -- the kids would always be kids, never growing older or sadder or more distant, the pets would always be there, purring in your lap and occasionally peeing in the corner, and your parents would always be there in the background, old and doddering perhaps, but still there.

My life is now in total flux, and all I can think of is that it was all under control just a minute ago.  And why can't it just stay that way, stressful and exhausting as it was?  Of course, it wasn't under control, and change -- though incremental -- was always underway.  And frankly the situation wasn't that great.  Now, however, I feel as though I thrown myself off of the precipice, and I can only hope that I, in the words of Ray Bradbury, can build my wings on the way down ...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Loose Stuff ...

Shall we start on the subject of Leicas?  It's not like I've talked about that before, is it?

I came across this piece (NSFW) on the internet today.  Frankly, his complaints about image quality are hard for me to see, even though I reflexively agree with him, but his rant at the end was an interesting new thought on my old digital vs. analog question.  Indeed, I have and regularly use Leicas that are 60 years old.  They work great, and it puts me in direct control of the image (no auto functions causing the camera to refuse to fire because it thinks I'm making a mistake, no weird artifacts added by some secondary processing function, and so on ...)

But how long will there be film -- nice, Kodak-made Tri-X, for example -- not to mention the chemistry and so on to process it?  I have said that one could take solace in the fact that there are photographers out there still making daguerreotypes and ambrotypes -- techniques from the very earliest days of photography -- but those are processes that use very basic chemicals that can be combined in essentially a home lab.  35 mm Tri-X is not something you can cobble together in your garage.

Back in December, Craig Mod contemplated about this subject in the New Yorker.  He told his story of transition from various film cameras, through digital to his positive impressions of pictures shot during one trip on an iPhone.  "Tracing the evolution from the Nikon 8008 to the Nikon D70 to the GX1, we see cameras transitioning into what they were bound to become: networked lenses," he wrote.  In other words, he sees the whole process of photography shifting as the value of the pictures themselves become increasingly measured by the ability of people to see them through the network.  I'm not sure I agree (per the Vivian Maier Test), but it is an interesting thought.

 Finally, there's this.  Spoiler alert: this is the final sentence: "No doubt, cameras capabilities will continue to improve and amaze, but I wonder as camera design evolves just how much joy will be left in the process of taking photos?"  However, the journey to that point is quick and interesting.

Monday, June 30, 2014

"Who's Hitler?"

One of the joys and curiosities of child rearing is that moment when you remember that the things you think everyone knows aren't pre-installed.  It starts with infants and toddlers, like when it was first explained to me that the reason they throw things from their high chairs over and over is because they don't know for sure that objects fall every time.

And so it was when a TV show made a joke about killing Hitler one day, and my daughter asked, "Who's Hitler?"

I didn't know what to think.  I mean, I answered the question and added the requisite moral at the end (Holocaust and totalitarianism are bad, and it cost a lot to get rid of them), but then I was left to wonder what exactly that question meant.

Should I be happy that I'm able to raise children in an environment where someone like Hitler is an alien concept?  Should I be alarmed that she hadn't somehow encountered that period in a history class yet?  (Frankly, not really; she wasn't that old when she asked.)  Should I hurry to warn her that evil exists, or let her enjoy childhood as it slips comfortably by?

I guess mainly I enjoyed the idea of a life without the need of knowing about Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, Savonarola and the Spanish Inquisition.  There's an appeal to thinking about a spring-like future of happy children, all of whom greet the question with puzzled blankness.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tumbling Along

So I got on Tumblr some time ago because a friend pointed out that all the "experts" were saying it was The Next Big Thing, and if you wanted to stay current, you had to be on it.  Problem was, I wasn't quite sure what it was.

Was it a blog?  Was it like Facebook (which was The Last Big Thing then)?  Pinterest was yet to come, but that answered another thing that it wasn't.

Anyway, I built my site nonetheless (and posted a few lamentations that I didn't know what to do with it) and let it lay for a while.

Now, it seems to have matured into its own, and I have a sense of what it is, even if I don't think I do that well.  Others do, like Modern Hepburn or The Fuller View, both more photography based and so obviously more interesting to me.

And while some are interesting because of everything from odd subject matter to layout, I wanted to write about the two above in particular, because I think they show what to me is an interesting style (perhaps a new trend?) in photography. 

The pictures are of pleasant things, clean and somewhat nostalgic of good times gone by, but clearly current, indicating that the life they show is still attainable.  They are somewhat reductionist, showing only essential fragments of the whole, either saying that this perfect detail is what makes the moment, or perhaps that they don't need to tell the whole story.  Like a Zen poem, it's delivering just enough for the viewer to build all the rest.

The bee emerging
from deep within the peony
departs reluctantly 
                                              - Basho

The sun shines in the pictures, no laundry waits to be done, no garbage needs to be taken out.  The people are not idle, but they are not preparing to rush out to dreary jobs.  They are very satisfying images, little moments of peace and wish fulfillment, successors perhaps to Slim Aarons' pictures of the debutantes and aristocrats of the 1950s.  They seem both new and old at the same time; I struggle to articulate what attracts me to these images.

It's just that I sense something attractive and interesting ...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Again with the Leica ...

So this is cute ...

But if you ask me, it completely misses the point.

You use the Leica M for two reasons:
1. To be able to use the lenses made for it by Leitz and Zeiss and a few others, or
2. To be quick and quiet and inconspicuous.

Of course, I've noted a third reason in the past: because its setup and design makes the photographic experience different than with, for example, a DSLR.

Now, why would you use the Petzval lens?  Well, primarily for the old-style effect.  It's very cool, and I wish I had one, but frankly, if it's all about the lens, it doesn't matter what the box it's attached to is. It's actually a design based on lenses made in the 19th Century for big view cameras. 

And thus, attaching a Petzval to a Leica M3 is pointless.  The Leica shutter and film plane are not any more special (except that the shutter is noted for its quiet) than any other camera.  As a matter of fact, with something as spooky in terms as focus as the Petzval, I think I'd much rather be able to back check my image through an SLR viewfinder.

So, really, what's the point?

Friday, May 23, 2014

... And Also

I seem to have an ever expanding list of websites that I want to point out or comment upon, and I keep putting off doing it because I try to do the collections all at once, or in a theme, but I think I need to just start doling these out as I get it done.

There is, for example, this warning about the inevitable creative and work plateau everyone will face.

"Society has a funny way of reminding people that there’s this order for things, and at this point your Facebook wall is exploding with friends’ puppies and houses and engagements and marriages and babies. And you start asking yourself… what have you done with your life?!"

Next, I'm always amused by and interested in a blog post that gets your attention cleverly, and delivers by being more clever, like this one.

"Let’s do some math," Etienne Schottel writes.  "What can we get for $2,800 (which is quite something I must admit)?

"A) The Sony RX1 killer-camera-that-fits-in-your-pocket-alas-not-in-my-French-undersized-pockets. ...

"B) A Leica lens which is so sharp that it is considered as a weapon in some countries.

"C) A one-year flight ticket which will offer you so many good moments and pictures that you’ll never regret it.

"Yes, my answer is C. This is the price of the ticket (for one person) we paid for our one-year trip. But, you can change the amount for something smaller, even $300 my answer remains “C”. I will always prefer using my money to go somewhere I don’t know that any new camera and that is my Grail. Period (I love them)."

Good point, in its way.  As I've blogged a couple times before, and mentioned on The Guy with the Leica,  truly the best camera is the one you have, and having something decent while in an interesting place is a good combination.

But maybe not a great one.

I think he misses two points: That the camera used can affect the picture, and there are pictures everywhere.

I have blogged before about my love of the Leica M and in particular the ones I own.  As I've said before, the M style camera just makes me see things differently, basically with more awareness.  Another, more esoteric way I have put it: The M makes it clear to me what a 50mm lens is for.

However, what's more important, I think, is the idea of putting your head in the right place to shoot.  Why is it that things are more interesting and somehow more visual when you're traveling?  Why is a small Chinese child in Beijing photogenic, but your neighbor's toddler cute, but just another kid?  Try looking at your world as a visitor.  It might actually surprise you what you now see and what becomes interesting.

Finally, there's this cri de coeur by a wedding photographer.   She relates how she made herself crazy looking at other photographers' work, but then just stopped cold turkey.

"Instead? I read books. I listened to music. I drank whiskey with my friends and had impromptu dance parties in my living room. I binge-watched TV shows and ate entire boxes of doughnuts. I took road trips, stayed up all night, slept in all day. I snuggled my husband, my sisters, my nephews. I wrote and drew and sewed and took pictures with my iPhone — my iPhone, for heaven’s sake!
"In short: I lived. And I discovered that if I would just live my life and be a person, if I would commune with other people who live and love and ARE, inspiration grew. It blossomed out of me like herbs in the windowsill, taller overnight, greener by the hour.
"And instead of incessantly reminding myself of all the ways in which I fell short — the money I wasn’t earning, the gear I wasn’t acquiring, the pictures I didn’t even know how to make — I stepped back and saw that wedding photography — this beautiful, terrible, exhausting, wonderful thing I called my job — was really a direct path to communion."

It's a good lesson, I think, for all of us.  We became what we are, and became good at what we do,  not because of imitation, but because of us and all the learning and studying and various influences of all the things that interest us.  You don't have to "find your joy," it's right there, where you put it down.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In Memoriam

I've blogged about this poem before -- I think it has perhaps one of the best opening lines ever written -- but I return to it again as Memorial Day approaches.  One might think me anti-military or a pacifist for my fascination with it and other writing by those from the post-war generation of the 1920s, a group notably horrified by the experience of the Great War.  (Just check out The Razor's Edge, if you want an excellent, longer read.)  However, I have no problem with the military and it's application ... if one is prepared for the unpleasant consequences.

With that in mind, let us take a moment to think of those who willingly put themselves in harm's way, not infrequently enough left on the battlefield of foreign lands or their own minds, wondering why ...

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Friday, May 9, 2014


For the longest time, I've thought it would be interesting to do a book on the world's top news photographers.  Each one would get two pages: on the left, a portrait (by me, naturally), a paragraph or two of text explaining who it is and why the photographer rates being considered in the "top," and a small print of his or her most famous picture.  Then, on the right, would be the photographer's favorite picture from his portfolio, along with a quote explaining why.

I think this would show two things: That a photographer's favorite picture is rarely the one others consider his best, and that photographers are usually bad editors of their own work.

Does this say "Beauty" to you?

Recently, on my "phlog," The Guy with the Leica, I posted three pictures I chose to send to a contest with the theme of Beauty.  Aside from having to plow through a lot of archives (the only requirement was that the picture was shot with a Leica camera), it took a surprising amount of thought and time to pick the pictures I sent in.

Personally, I hate editing my own stuff, especially if I have to do it right after the shoot.  I think I'm still too "in the moment," remembering what happened and what I did to make the picture, rather than simply looking at it as a photo, the way a viewer who hadn't been there would.  Often, I am mystified when people react strongly to a picture I have shot recently -- either positively or negatively.  After some time, I can feel a bit better about it, but things still carry memories and meanings for me that the uninformed viewer would not get.  Better to let a good editor come at it cold.

I have this problem with writing too, which may be another reason I have trouble blogging as often as I should.  I hate all my writing initially, then grow to tolerate it as time passes.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I'm going to be an optimist about this ...

But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Sometimes it seems that, every time I see the end of our long, hard slog, a new problem, delay or expense comes along.  Every time I think that I can finally relax into a reasonable, comfortable schedule, more urgent things must be done, or whenever we've finally locked down a good income stream to climb out, it evaporates.

But I am going to be an optimist about this, even as the dust settles down around us ...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

... Addendum

A new review of the Leica T from the Red Dot Forum:

"The Leica T looks like it might have emerged out of Apple, as its sleek uni-body aluminum design more echoes a MacBook Pro laptop than a camera."

"The camera just exudes quality and is simply gorgeous to hold and look at. And, yes, for those wondering, it is made in Germany at the new Wetzlar factory, proudly signified by the writing under the rear LCD: 'Leica Camera Wetzlar Germany.'"

from Red Dot Forum

"And yet, the camera is much more than just a pretty face. Leica is synonymous with image quality, especially with regards to optics and the T is no exception. The first of many lenses to come in the new autofocus T mount prove to be excellent. Two lenses will be available at launch, a midrange zoom and a wide-normal fast prime."

Okay, time for me to butt in here with a typical anecdote.  When Canon came out with the EOS system, I was a happy Canon user in a sea of Nikons.  The F1s I owned, I thought, were great and significantly cheaper than the top-of-the-line Nikon F3.  But now Canon had forced a choice on me.  The new EOS mount, while providing better autofocus and autoexposure function (the mounts actually started with a few more contacts than they had uses, anticipating future requirements), was completely different from the F mount I had heavily invested in.  I could stay with the F, haunting flea markets and estate sales for old glass and gear for all time, while technology passed me by, go with the expensive EOS system, or switch to Nikon.  Nikon was, as usual, playing catch-up in the autofocus business, but doing it while retaining a lens mount that accepted older glass.

I sold everything and went with Nikon.

Now Leica thinks that, for their new system, I'm prepared to invest in a whole new line of Leica lenses?  I know that they're planned to be cheaper than M, R and S glass, but still ...

"An M Adapter-T will be available as an accessory to the T for $395. Like all other Leica-made lens adapters, the M Adapter-T features solid metal construction with polished lens mounts."

I dunno'.  It's pretty and all, but I stick with my opinion about the photographic experience.

But read the review for yourself.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

The NEW Leica!

Normally, no one is happier than I when the words "new" and "Leica" come in the same sentence, and I understand that when you make a premium product (eg: expensive ... well, incredibly expensive), you need to reach out to as many customers in that limited demographic as you can, but lately I've had a stunning disinterest in some new releases from my favorite camera company.

First, it was the X Vario, and now the new T System.  It was announced in one of the big events Leica has specialized in since its glorious 9/9/09 revelation of the M9 -- a camera I would most definitely be interested in.  People are acting very excited, despite Leica releasing what PetaPixel called "The Most Boring Ad You've Ever Seen."

I still have to drill down into the technical stuff to better understand what this is, but from the company descriptions and stories about it I have glanced through, it may yet be another Leica that's not for me.

I recoil at the happy snap look, despite the Rolex-like, carved-from-a-solid-metal-block construction.  Maybe I should be more open minded, not judging the camera just by its appearance (and Leica's regularly pairing with designers from Audi or Volkswagen or some fashion house; what does that have to do with photography?)

But here's the thing: what I love about the M system is the way it makes me think and act and See when I go to make a picture.  I explain to people that those cameras make me look at the world in a different way, and approach it to make a picture in a different way.  You can't just hand me some rich man's tourist toy and expect the same reaction.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wandering the Internet ...

"Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography."
 - George Eastman

I have a nascent lecture that I noodle with (noodling being that thing where you think about it from time to time, but don't actually write anything down) that explains that all photography is nothing but light.  I'm still working on how to make it comprehensible and even a little profound, so you'll have to forgive this over-short, lunken version, but basically it revolves around the fact that, in physics, things don't really have colors.  Rather, they absorb all of the light rays of all the other colors in white light, and just reflect the wavelength of the color we perceive them as.  So a red ball isn't red as a state of being, but is something that reflects red light to your eye.

By extension, by the time you get to photography, you're not really making pictures of things, but rather you are capturing the light that reflected off those things.  Pictures aren't of things, but of light.

Get it?

Yeah, I'll keep working.

Anyway, over the past months I've been saving some websites on photography and other things that seemed worthy of mention.

One is a blog by Cheri Frost explaining that, like any profession, photography can't be learned through one simple, miraculous training session.  "Instead of allowing Experience to teach, the industry has gone another route: they have replaced Experience and her years of wisdom with Mr. Fast Track," she writes. "Oh, he’s smooth, real smooth, and hip and trendy. He’s like the photography equivalent of Weight Loss Pills-guaranteed to work overnight. He’s got answers for everything AND a workbook, forum, DVD and/or downloadable e-book."

This is a variant on something I've ranted about before, especially when a couple of these charismatic session people were accused of plagiarism (and the reporter writing on it completely missed the point -- this point), 

Meanwhile, Mark Manson notes: "In our instant gratification culture, it's easy to forget that most personal change does not occur as a single static event in time, but rather as a long, gradual evolution where we're hardly aware of it as it's happening."  He's talking about the things he learned in his 20s that he wishes other 20-somethings would know before that special period of life slips by, and I couldn't agree more.

And while you're learning those lessons, there's also this.  Normally, I find these things overly technical, or reflections of the sort of flashy, pointless stuff the Superstar Photo Seminar people mentioned above do, but Jeff Meyer's suggestions are all good ones ... and not coincidentally, I think, resemble what you would have to do if you used an all-manual, film camera for a while.

Now I guess I have to get on that "post a photo a day" thing, maybe over at Guy with a Leica.

Finally, I find Avedon's work interesting in a paradoxical way.  Part of me thinks it's brilliant -- simple, unadorned, straight-on shots in front of a plain, featureless background; the subject stands alone.  Part of me thinks it's a rather simplistic, easily imitated trick, overdone even by Avedon.  I have that feeling about others who have "trademark" styles (like William Wegman or Joyce Tenneson), but then again, if it works ...

Anyway, there was an interesting little blog in the New Yorker about Avedon's efforts to make a portrait of the recently deceased author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I wonder what it was he so disliked about the 1976 picture ...

RANDOM BONUS THOUGHT: Some April Fools Day, the cable company should list the "80s Porn Channel," which would be a signal that never descrambles.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

So, Where Ya' Been?

I have a friend -- well, I still call him a friend, and indeed I hope he still thinks as well of me -- who I fell out of communication with a while ago.  A while, like 25 years.  It's embarrassing, really.  We were the best of friends in college, and kept up for some time thereafter, but then literally fell out of contact for no good reason.  I failed to answer a message from him, and he had no obligation to nag me into staying in touch, and after a certain time, it became uncomfortable to try to call or anything.  "Hi!  Sorry I ignored you for a bunch of months.  Nothing personal, okay?" 

I think now's the time -- especially as it's a good exercise for Lent -- to reach out to him, explain that it was just stupidity and distractions and finally embarrassment over it all that kept me away, and it's frankly ridiculous.  I want to write a letter.  But Lent is almost over, and I still haven't found that quiet time to sit down and work it out.

Which brings me to this moment here.  I have always said that I get frustrated with blogs, especially good ones, that don't update regularly and frequently.  This is the internet, the land of 24/7, and if you don't feed the beast all the time, you clearly don't understand the medium.  Thus, those times when I fail to show up here for weeks and months at a time are an humiliating bit of hypocrisy, for which I apologize, no matter how busy or tired or not in the mood I might be.

The name, "Cat Typing," refers to the random keys punched by cats as they walk across the keyboard, and is meant to give some hint of the uncontrolled nature of what I might say.  Lately things have gotten a bit deep and occasionally theological.  I plan to take us back out of the thick reeds and more into things like photography again in the near term, but one never knows where we may go.

At any rate, I do want it to be more frequent, so that (I hope) is the one thing you can be certain of here.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Remember, you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.

The priest murmurs it as he swipes the ashes onto your forehead on Ash Wednesday.  To dust you shall return.  Remember that, for all your grand goals and ambitions, for all the inflated belief in your own value, your purpose and necessity, one day it's worm food for you, pal.

Lent is especially striking this year.  I want to use the word "cloying," but not in the negative way, indicating something of, say, an overwhelming saccharine sweetness.  Rather, the season claws at my soul, demanding a different kind of humility than usual.

For the first time ever, I am jarred by people who take these days lightly and dismissively, like the fellow in the newsroom who announced with a chuckle that he was "giving up religion for Lent."  Normally, I'm okay with the fun and games; I'm rather difficult to offend.  But now the piling on by the irreligious, or even non-Catholic, seemed ignorant and to be missing the point altogether.  This is a moment to pause and reflect on the real purpose and intent of your life, not a diet plan.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
 - Matthew 6:24

These days, I scramble for inflated belief in myself and my future.  As I've said before, worries about money can suck the joy out of anything, and sometimes it seems that the hole is not only deeper, but that all my furious efforts are only resulting in me digging in more, not in digging out.

Yet I can hardly complain.  The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, a priest who works for Food for the Poor spoke at Mass.  He described the stunning poverty, the astounding smell, of the nightmarish Cite Soliel area of Port au Prince, Haiti. 

I live comfortably, even well, probably beyond my means, but not extravagantly.  I do what seems reasonable, and I work hard to make enough income to cover it, and yet ... 

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

The trick here, I think, is to be sure to despise the correct master.  I mean: we really have to work for money.  It is the rare person who can simply exist from moment to moment without any thought as to where the next meal or payment will come from.  After a while of living in anything but the most ascetic of ways (like a monk, for example), one acquires obligations and responsibilities, like family and rent bills, expectations of food and clothing, and to be honest a certain style of living (whatever that style may be -- the monk can afford to live with only his robes, but the office expects something besides the same tattered outfit every day.)

Lent -- to return to the main point -- gives you an opportunity to step off of the treadmill for a moment and take a look at just what you're doing.  How much of the above is just rationalizations ("I really must have that new outfit for the office to be respectable."), how much the unthinking indulgence in little pleasures?

"When I fast from meat today, do I do so because it's a rule, or to unite in solidarity with those without access to meats and food?" asks a Facebook friend, the sort of Christian I can only aspire to be.  "There are an estimated two million living in Syrian refugee camps, moms and dads who look for something, anything to feed their kids. Isaiah 58 makes very clear the kind of fasting preferred by God."

It can be hard to fast in a normal, American day, when friends are snacking and going out for burgers and pizzas.   It should make one think because many Americans have to, well, think about ways to not eat.

“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.” 

So, not to keep hammering on the money thing, but right now I have a dollar in my wallet, as in: a single dollar bill.  Everything else is allocated to gas and other basic survival expenses (groceries, medicine and the sort).  Especially for Lent, but in my life in general these days, there is rarely "spare" money.  (That's a term that's always amused me, especially when panhandlers ask for "spare change," as though I carry some extra money around like a spare tire in a car.  "Oh, this?  It's extra money; I have no use for it."  But perhaps this is another posting, and I am getting sidetracked.)

My question is: what do I do with this dollar?  Part of me wants, as I buy aforementioned gas, to get a lottery ticket.  I've long since dispensed with hopes of any of these massive wins of hundreds of millions; a little payout for a small game with better odds would be helpful.  Just a few thousand dollars would make an immeasurable difference.
But the above always comes to mind.  No matter how much I think I "deserve" even a small win, no matter how deeply I pray God take pity on me, facts are facts and math is math.  The odds are deeply against me; I might as well give the dollar as "spare" money to the first deserving looking person I meet.

For that matter, why not formalize the donation?  Why don't I, as the basket goes by, simply drop the dollar at church?  If I want God's help, surely it can't hurt to do Him a good turn, can it?

Of course, I know that logic is both practically and theologically suspect.  If I want to give it to church or charity, I should do it because churches and charities need money, and I wish them to prosper.  I should do it because I think that dollar will function better in that place than in the lottery fund or at the bottom of a fast food cash register till.

Maybe I should just shove it in an envelope with any other small amounts I come across.  It's always good to save, and even in paltry amounts, money eventually adds up.  Will it add up quickly enough?  Is it more practical to "leverage" that dollar, as a financial adviser might say of a significantly (significantly) larger amount, and put it to use somewhere ... like as a lottery ticket?

And we return to question one ...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hello Again ...

I've mentioned before how I don't really understand how traffic on this blog will spike or not.  Often, it would make mysterious jumps for no reason, and other times (when I thought I had posted classic "click bait,") it would lie there like a dead fish. 

A few times, I have delved into the options offered by Google to show statistics on traffic, but never really got it.  For a while, it seemed, I was getting traffic from India.

But today, I drilled down into it again (after my last post generated a remarkable 38 hits -- not exactly Gizmodo or Upworthy traffic, but remarkable for me) and found the clicks are coming from Google, this site itself (I guess that means people typed in the address directly) and something called

So I went to see what it was, and it appears to be a personalizable (is that a word?) dashboard where you can have a series of sub-windows open to check your favorite sites.  Cool.

So thanks for clicking in.  Check out some of the really old posts while you're here; I do that myself occasionally, and am surprised at what I have forgotten.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

I saw that attributed to Hemingway, and it sounds like him, but research (eg: Google) raises some question.

Anyway, a friend asked once why I hadn't blogged in a while, and I said that I was afraid I had nothing interesting to say ... and I hadn't been drunk enough lately to try.  Blogging -- frankly, writing in general -- is a constant struggle to find something worth saying, and then manage to get it down in some form that you can find acceptable enough to let others see.  In a quote I know is authentic, Dorothy Parker said, "I hate writing, but I love having written."

The very crushing of inhibitions that can result in a bad late night bar hookup can also help the words flow.  So can some sober inspiration.  Neither seems to be around lately.

All this is by way of getting something on here, even though it has been two weeks since I last posted.  Work has been busy, and I have had a dearth of worthy ideas (though I do have a couple of posts in "Draft" form searching for the right inspiration to flesh them out). 

And there is a lamentable shortage of wine around here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Psalm 36

Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.

That's the beginning of Psalm 36 in a modern translation.  King James is somewhat different:

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, 
that there is no fear of God before his eyes. 

For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, 
until his iniquity be found to be hateful.
 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: 
he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.

It's almost as if the translators are seeing completely different, though vaguely similar, texts.  Anyway, the modern version struck me.  Particularly that first line: "Sin speaks to the sinner."

Sin, it says, creates a closed loop.  You begin to undercut the basic premises of morality, chipping away at your values in little bits, then reenforcing that erosion with the justifications that caused it in the first place.  "He so flatters himself in his mind, that he knows not his guilt."  You're now operating in your own little world.

It reminds me of all those characters in reality TV.  You know, the ones who become the villains of the piece, willing to do anything to win.  Inevitably, when they're caught out, or perhaps when the show airs and the viewers react, the subject in question finally cries, "I'm a good person!"   In their world, everything they did was perfectly understandable.  Maybe, confronted with their actions, they'll admit they acted poorly, but we just don't understand, because in the end they are "good."

Sin has spoken to the sinner.  As they went down their "practical" path, these people began closing the loop, failing to see it from the outside.

This is related to the whole idea of losing one's perspective.  Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" refers to it as being in the Monkey House.

Chris, from Project Runway: "Check out my fur-inspired line of clothing, it's covered in human hair!"

Tim Gunn (politely gagging): "I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for 20 minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You've been living in the monkey house."

This effect is often the cause, I think, of poorly envisioned villains in movies and fiction.  (I almost said "popular fiction," but I would hope that something badly written wouldn't, in the end, be that popular.)  Anyway, well-formed villains don't get that what they are doing is wrong.  It all makes perfect, logical, internal sense to them.  Often, they are actually proud of it.

Badly formed villains are evil because someone needs to do bad things to let the hero do good things.  The writer (or usually writers, which is how so many movies have come off the rails over the years) needs this or that plot development, so the bad guy does it.  Why? Well, the author explains, because he's evil.  Not good enough, I answer.

This reminds me of an acquaintance who was interested in making horror films.  She asked my advice on cinematography (or videography, I guess, though I dislike that word as some sort of modern pastiche to create a false sense of prestige), and this naturally segued into talk on plot structure and character development.

As she described some ax-wielding villains, I asked why they were ax-wielding villains.  Well, she said, because that was the danger, the MacGuffin.  But, I said, you need to work out their back story, their reasoning for doing this, even if you're the only one who knows.  It doesn't need to come out in the movie -- Basil Exposition needn't stop the action and say, "But of course you know why Cletus wants to kill you, don't you?" -- but it drives and informs everything that character does.  Otherwise, you'll have him doing things just so they'll be done ... and it will make no sense at all.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

About Hats and Fashion ...

My father hated hats.  He's of that generation.  You know, the Kennedy generation of men who came to adulthood in World War II and built the country in the 50s and 60s.  JFK reportedly hated hats too, and rarely wore one.  He was the first president to be inaugurated without a top hat.  (Look at the pictures, it's true.  Before him they always showed up in cutaway coats with gray top hats.)

I read speculation once that the reason those men turned from hats was the rigid hat-related discipline in the military during the war years.  I don't know: that seems a bit simple.

I like hats.  I think they're helpful (I dislike both umbrellas and having rain on my head) and stylish.  I miss the social signals that could be sent with them.  In the day, you knew that a man in a top hat was of the upper classes, and a man in a soft hat (like a fedora or a panel cap) worked for a living.  You knew where a person was headed by his dress and headgear (see above re: cutaway coats and top hats).  You could make a political statement by, say, wearing that soft fedora as a member of the aristocracy, thus showing you weren't as stuck up as your parents and peers and sympathized with the working man.  And if you wore a bowler, you were a stand up, respectable member of the middle classes, a pillar of society.

from Tumblr

Hats seem to be making a bit of a comeback on the fashion runways, but we all know the connection between that magical fantasyland and reality is a distant one, made more of symbolism and metaphor.  They may show guys dressed in crepe paper suits tie dyed in vibrant neon hues with flip flops and ties made of lettuce, but the signal to be read for the everyday streets is: the fit's a little snugger this year.  Still, it would be nice if this meant something.

Of course, it's not like I couldn't buy a bowler.  They're more than available today, but then again we return to the question of social signals ... and frankly of looking like a fool.

That's not to say I'm in favor of all hats.  Lately I've been seeing a lot of pictures in fashion-related stuff of women wearing these big, boho, floppy hats, both casually and sorta' formally.  Ladies: these are ugly.  They're big and ugly.  Someone may say it's a great, funky way to just throw something on when you're having a bad hair day.  They're full of it.  It just makes everyone wonder: What's she trying to hide with that big, stupid, shapeless hat?

They should be burned.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Okay, so we all know what "TMI" means: technically, "Too Much Information," intending to warn the speaker that he is getting into uncomfortable, overly personal territory.  But this morning I was recalling a moment yesterday, and wondered about the phrase's literal meaning.

One by one, my daughters insisted I watch segments on YouTube about how each of the My Little Ponies got their "cutie marks." (That's a mark on the rear flank which symbolizes the pony's special talent, for those who have lived life without the privilege and pleasure of the show and accompanying toys ... or is that the other way around?)

At any rate, the segments are rather cute, the message -- though obvious -- is positive, and I had the time to stand and watch.  Besides, I like to try to treat their interests and fascinations with some respect, to not be that parent who thinks anything the kids do is trivial and a time waster for adults.  I don't always succeed, but I try.

So this morning, leaving them asleep in their beds, I am thinking during my commute that I may never have need of knowing why Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash have their particular talents, or what they are for that matter, but is there really some information that is a complete waste to know?  Is it possible to have too much information?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'd Be More Interested If You Were Dead

I saw a T shirt in a catalog recently that said: "History Buff: I'd be more interested in you if you were dead."  I thought that was funny ...

I compliment myself to think that I could live quite comfortably, and even happily, in a 19th Century environment. Even though I work in television and enjoy the product, and though I obviously blog on the internet and enjoy that, books remain a boundless pleasure.  Electricity is nice; central heating is something that I would be reluctant to surrender, but I've lived in houses with wood fireplaces and stoves that not only did a good job, but sometimes too good a job of keeping it warm.  Air conditioning?  Well, yeah, I guess that's important.

Society, though, I think was more pleasant in its way.  I finally got to see the new Coen brothers version of "True Grit" the other night, and was reminded of the baroque language of the day, for which the film was justly celebrated.  It reminded me of T.R. Reid's excellent account of his time as the Washington Post's bureau chief in Tokyo, Confucius Lives Next Door.  In it, he speculates that the equally elaborate way of Japanese speech presents an insight into the structured  society and very low crime rate in that country.  I like that idea.

I think it would be nice to live in a somewhat more formal and polite society.  I grew up in the 1960s, when youth (and the media culture) rebelled against what they saw as the restricted, limited, rule bound world of the gray flannel man.  Though Victorian art (like Art Nouveau) was enjoyed and celebrated in the psychedelic culture, to label something "Victorian" then was to mark it as closed minded and unacceptably, even ridiculously, structured.  Everyone was to be free to do as they pleased, and "why can't we just tell the truth all the time, instead of being so ... polite."

Well, 40 years later, I'm not sure it has really worked out.  I saw a piece on the internet on this.  Discussing the current  culture of self-obsession and self-esteem, the author turns to a quote from Marilyn Monroe: "I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best."

"Out of all the profundities ever uttered," Matt Walsh then explains, "what does it say about our society that THIS is the quote we’ve decided to take to heart?"  Absolutely right, and explained better than I could later in his blog.

Or perhaps, on the opposite side of the thought, there's this from NPR's "This I Believe" series. Author Dierdre Sullivan explains why she thinks her father was wise to demand, even as a child, that she attend viewings and funerals of friends and acquaintances as well as family.  "'Always go to the funeral' means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it," she says.  "I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to."  Being polite, caring enough to not force people to deal with you at your worst, that comes in the small things.

Maybe we could all try a little harder ...

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Miracle of Digital

David Turnley writes the other day on his Facebook page about moving to digital:

Happy Birthday to Apple MacIntosh and the Digital Age.

In 2003, I spent a month mounting a clandestine mission to be smuggled from Turkey across the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers in the middle of winter across white water rapid rivers the size of the Mississippi in a truck tire inter tube by Peshmarga Guerrillas, to avoid being “embedded”, to cover the war in Iraq. I was almost killed twice. For the first time, covering this war, I was working with a digital camera. On one of these first days, shells had landed in a Kurdish village killing members of a family. With my translator, and an ex- English Special Forces soldier who I was accompanied with while on assignment for CNN we rushed to the scene and made pictures. As we drove down a country road, at the end of this dramatic day, I downloaded a flash card. Suddenly, with the sun setting, my Apple laptop computer, with the northern Iraqi mountains looming in front of me through the windshield, began to play my photographs as a slide show, to Beethoven, the default that the computer was set to in itunes. I began to cry- the years around the world- that I would never see my work for weeks after I had shipped film back to New York or Paris from some distant land, or managed to create a makeshift darkroom in a remote motel and spend a night trying to transmit one negative through an international telephone line. As we drove, these images were being transmitted over a satellite dish on the roof of our SUV to Atlanta, and five minutes later, several hundred images had arrived, to be set up to be transmitted over this International network to millions around the world as a three minute piece. For me, this was the beginning of the digital era, and I have never looked back. 

©David Turnley, From Baghdad Blues, all rights reserved, 2003.

David and his twin Peter are both photojournalists in the high stratosphere of the profession, to the point where it has become a joke among others at their level that one can judge the importance of an international event by whether one or both of them shows up to cover it, thus making it either a "One Turnley" or a "Two Turnley" story.  Tienamen Square in 1989 was a Two Turnley event.

Anyway, this reminded me of my earlier post on what I called The Devil's Bargain, where I asked what I would do if someone offered to replace all my film Leicas with one of the new digital Ms.  It does move the needle a little in the direction of "Yes," I think, but still remains with a caveat: If I sold every Leica body I owned (weeping with each departure), I don't think I'd have enough even then to buy a single M(240).  Not sure about an M9 or (better, in my opinion) M9P.

So I guess I'm safe from the Devil for another day ...