Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Altered States

The folks at Adobe must get a huge kick out of the fact that the word “Photoshop” has become a part of everyday language. I wish I had a dime for every time some guy on the street who has seen that I’m carrying a camera has said to me: “Hey Buddy, could you take my picture and then Photoshop it so I look like Tom Cruise?”

(I live in a small town. A lot of "being-friendly" conversations with people I don’t know at the local post office or at the feed store seem to begin with the words “Hey Buddy”...)

Like facial tissue came to be known as “Kleenex” and gelatin desert is “Jell-O,” so it is that we live in a time when most people refer to any photo software as “Photoshop.” I’m sure the Adobe stockholders are smiling all the way to the bank, or to their retirement villas in Mexico.

Typically, I’m not an edgy user of Photoshop. Like many documentary and photojournalistic photographers, I use Photoshop to work with images on my computer the way I once used an enlarger and photographic paper to print negatives in the darkroom. "Reality" is what I seek in my imagery.

Still, sometimes it’s fun to play, and these home snapshots I did of our cat Basil gave me a chance to get a little funky with Photoshop’s “saturation” slider control.

Looking at these pictures with their psychedelic colors, I think I’m on the verge of a 60’s flashback. From out of the cosmos, a mind-tune begins to play in the scary, inner reaches of my brain:


Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Toy

So I’m officially crazy-in-love with my new compact camera, a Canon G9.

No I didn’t really need another camera, but (get ready for a rationalization) I got the G9 by trading-in a lens that I wasn’t using any longer, so it’s not like I spent real money for the G9...
is it?

Please tell me the purchase/trade was okay. I’m fragile about these consumer matters. (The more fragile I get, the more words I tend to italicize...)

Actually, the buyer’s (trader’s?) remorse only lasted a few days. Then I began to shoot pictures I halfway like with the new camera. Nearly all of the images I’ve posted on this online journal in the past two weeks were shot with the G9. There’s nothing like being immediately productive with a new camera to make an unnecessary purchase seem like a prudent, well-considered move.

Even dog-walking-time has led to the finding of images. This surprises me because the strolls with the four-leggeds are a part of my day when--though in theory I’m on what is supposed to be the "in-charge" end of the dog's leash--I'm in practice being dragged along by a creature who is intent on following scents, not what the "master" believes might be photo opportunities. A pinkish/purplish wildflower (above,) blooming over near my neighbor’s pasture, was illuminated by early-morning light when I happened past. I had a few moments when I was able to shoot a few frames, before a strong tug from the other end of the leash let me know it was time to get moving. Later that same morning (minus the dog) I used the camera’s macro mode to shoot close-ups of a marigold in Leah’s garden.

I’m pretty jazzed about my new camera.

Did I mention I didn’t spend actual out-of-pocket money to get it?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sweet Eyes

Leah has taken to calling him “Sweet Eyes.”

There are two horses pastured down the lane from our place, and one of them, Sweet Eyes, has gotten to be our buddy. He comes to the fence to visit with us whenever we pass by, and he pushes his face into our hands, begging for affection.

Yesterday I stopped at the feed store in town and bought a bag of alfalfa horse treats. Like a fifth grade boy who shyly leaves a box of candy on the front porch of the cute girl down the street--does that still happen these days?--I stuff a couple of goodies in my pocket and walk down to the pasture, spending a few wonderful and peaceful moments with my new friend.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Kitchen Sink

It’s pretty amazing to me what people will sometimes say they see when they look at a photograph, whether the image is mine, or someone else’s. Take the picture above of marbles nesting in sea shells, for instance. Some viewers might say they’re reminded of bubbles in a glass of Champagne, while others--those of you who are maybe a wee bit disturbed--might see a mass of alien Munchkin faces.

After 20-some years as a photojournalist, the way I look at photographs is heavy on the literal, light on the fanciful. I shot the marbles picture near the window above our kitchen sink, where Leah has placed several knickknacks we’ve collected along the Puget Sound beaches, or in our yard, or on trips here and there. There’s an old jar of honey on the windowsill, beautiful in the way it takes on an amber glow in the morning light. There are several quirky, surf-polished stones we picked up when the tide was low down near the ferry landing. And there is a string of sandalwood beads we bought from a fast-talking Kathmandu street vendor when we visited Nepal last fall.

I look at the “marbles” picture and the visual documentarian in me can draw at least one conclusion: I can see that the sun was shining when the photograph was made (there are times of year here in the rainy Pacific Northwest when that alone would be a news flash.) If I was some kind of marine-life expert--which I’m not--I assume I could make a stunningly learned declaration about the origin of the shell, what sea creature called the shell home, and maybe I could even guess how long the shell washed around in the surf before Leah and I came along and picked it up. A viewer who is really into flower arranging could perhaps tell you that clear marbles like these are often used by gardeners who place the decorative little beauties in the bottoms of flower vases.

I hate to admit it, but I think I’m beginning to see Munchkin faces.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Releases

I’m pretty sure the animals who live at our house don’t mind being photographed. At least I hope that’s the case, because I recently bought a new snapshot camera and our dogs and cat have been my primary photographic subjects as I play with my new toy.

Though completely unintentional, I look at the pictures I’ve been shooting and I notice that many include chairs. Most have strong graphic lines and shapes.

The personal pictures I do are my way of exercising my eyes. Like a marathon runner who needs to put in 10 or 15 miles a day to stay fit, I think photographers too benefit by daily workouts, though in our case we are practicing the way we see. My personal work also winds up being a diary, a chronicle of my everyday life.

The convenient thing for me about photographing our pets is that I’m fairly certain I don’t need to worry about model releases.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eye Candy

The best thing that’s happened at our place this growing season is that the garden is back under Leah’s attentive and creative care.

Last year I staged a bit of a strong-arm takeover of that piece of earth. I’d read a story in an organic gardening magazine about how mulching could make for an efficient, fairly weed-free, low-maintenance garden, and mine was all of those things, but also boring.

Leah is much more thoughtful in the way she gardens, treating the space as a kind of living, evolving art project. Her garden--not large at all, maybe 15-feet square--contains a sweet little do-dad here, a whimsical knickknack there--interesting and decorative touches that make her garden the most welcoming and peaceful place this side of Frodo and Sam's beloved Shire.

Leah's garden is planted with chard, green beans, onions, broccoli, peppers, summer squash...this list goes on and on. Strawberry plants are giving us more tasty treats than even the hungriest of Hobbits could probably eat. Leah brought a bowl of berries into the kitchen yesterday morning and I placed them in a spot where there was nice light for a photograph. By the end of the day, the strawberries were gone...and the photographer had red teeth.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Seeing and Sharing

I walked past our garden the other day and what I saw--even at a glance--sent me running toward the house to fetch my “real” camera. Yes, I had my trusty snapshot camera in my pocket, but the garden was over-the-top full of gaudy, visual potential, and there was wonderful light to boot. I knew it was time for the photographer in me to Be Serious, so I ran for the Big Gun.

The chard looked particularly amazing, the veiny leaves and streaky stalks of the plants fairly glowing in soft, early-morning light. The marigolds nearby weren’t half-bad either. I moved around in the garden for quite some time, shooting this, looking closely at that. I was careful where I placed my feet, and those of my tripod. Crushed plants would undoubtedly make me the sorry recipient of the Wrath of the Gardener (Leah.)

There are some evenings when everything Leah and I have on our dinner plates came from our garden, or from our local Saturday Farmers Market. As rising fuel costs cause food prices to soar, I guess many of us are trying to buy food that is as locally-produced as possible. Still, we in “developed nations” live a life of plenty, compared to millions of people in the Third World, where hunger is an everyday reality.

Here in America, some dear friends of mine--they are simply individuals, hoping to help those who are hungry--have decided to give a portion of their own food budget money to the World Food Program, a hunger relief arm of the United Nations. If you are interested in knowing more about that organization, here’s a link:


Friday, July 4, 2008

We're Number One

Teenage beauty queens. Little kids riding training-wheeled bicycles that are decorated with a zillion American flags. Fancy vintage cars. Marching bands. More teenage beauty queens, these even prettier than the others. Then more kids on bikes with a mega-zillion flags.

The Fourth of July parade in the little Pacific Northwest town where we live is One Amazing Event. In a competitive country like the USA--this is, after all, an election year, when our two Presidential candidates seem to be wrestling one-another in a down-and-dirty smackdown to see who can appear to be the Most All-American, the most Red, White and Blue--my town should win some kind of award for celebrating a very sweet, old-fashioned kind of Star-Spangled-Bannered day. The rest of you in your small towns needn't try for this award, sad-sack losers that you are. You stay home on your Main Streets, at your Mom’s Diners, your JoeBob’s Bar and Grill. My town is the Best in America. We are going to be recognized by the Whole Wide World as the Champions of Patriotism. The rest of you aren’t even close.

...Or...at the very least, my town puts on the Best Fourth of July Parade.

The Best.

I was there today. I saw it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Good Intentions

Yesterday was Tree Watering Day here. The 20 Doug Fir seedling trees I put in the ground earlier this spring were looking a bit parched, so I took a metal watering can in hand and made many slow, intentional trips from water faucet to the spot where the trees are planted.

“Intention” is a word a friend of mine uses (for instance, she'll often speak about "living intentionally," or purchasing--or not purchasing--this or that, "with intention.") I’ve decided it’s a good word because it suggests that some kind of thought has gone into what we are choosing to do during our hours and days.

Watering the trees is a job I could probably do more efficiently by stringing a hose out to the trees, maybe putting out some kind of drip irrigation set-up. But I like the back-and-forth walking; and it’s pleasant to watch the water sprinkling from the can onto the baby trees. It’s my intention that this job be done slowly, and mindfully.

The yard behind our house has become a young forest in the 12 years we’ve lived at our place. One day last week I got out a seldom-used, early-generation digital camera. Because the camera is old and quirky in the way it sees light, I can put dark red filters on the lens and get infrared-look pictures. I played around doing images of the trees, and of a “scare-cat” that hangs from a beam above our back deck--the marble-eyed intimidator placed there (in theory, at least) to keep birds from pilfering produce from our garden.

Inside the house, I noticed nice light illuminating empty glass milk bottles sitting on the floor near our kitchen table. Sometimes it seems like there are photographic possibilities everywhere, at every turn. It’s my hope--my intention--not to miss the magic.