In addition to committing to a projet to post every day on this blog (I know, I know, that Vegas trip got me two days behind. But I’ll catch up!), I have been participating in a post-a-day project over on flickr as well. Needless to say, it is pretty hard to get all this in, especially after a painful 2 hours working with the kid on his homework. And I really didn’t have an opportunity to shoot anything today.
So, I was reading a discussion thread over on the flickr project 365 group where a poster shared his strategy for deflating the pressure of getting something up every day. That was to shoot the same object every morning as a backup shot in case no better shot gets taken that day. That way there is no pressure in completing the daily assignment. I was about to start employing this myself, with a little queasiness that I wouldn’t feel too good about just putting up a dispassionate shot of something sitting on my desk every once in a while.
Then I saw another strategy that I like even better and I can combine with another task I have to do anyway. This strategist points out that her goal in participating is to get post-production practice in as well as clicking the shutter. So, she’ll sometimes post a photo that was taken previously, but that was processed on that day.
I realized this would work well for me. I too, have thousands of photos that I have not processed yet. I also have a huge amount of file backup work to do. So, if I don’t have a newly shot photo to put for a given day, I will process an untouched photo from the current batch that is getting backed up. That way, I get some processing practice in, and some processing done, and get back to burning backups of all my files. Whew!
Here is the original unprocessed version of the shot found I rediscovered today while digging back through for the backup task.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Pontiac. Ever since word of its demise, I have been meaning to take a picture of the sign at the dealership on Auto Row in Oakland. I finally got around to it the other day. And while I was driving around looking for a place to park, I saw some other photo ops on the side streets. This old Plymouth was in beautiful shape. And as I just commented over on flickr, I have to admit I find it very sexy in a zaftig sort of way.
I’m not sure what to call the kind of photography I have been primarily engaged in since getting back into it over the last two years. I just know it hasn’t been landscapes and scenic photography. Indeed, I have not been trying to make images that are overtly beautiful or aesthetically pleasing at all.
Yet, there is something irresistible about nature. Often, it is awe-inspiring. And as we all know, sensations of pleasure, well-being, and the loss of self in the one-ness of the creation often lead to addiction. Gotta get that fix again and again. That leads to wanting it for oneself, even in a puny way like making a picture of it.
That’s not to denigrate scenic photography. I find a lot of it pretty wonderful. I just also see the production of it as beyond my ken–not to mention my lacking the wherewithal to afford the gear and the travel to seriously pursue and produce beautiful scenic photography.
All that said, I’ve had fun working with some shots of San Francisco Bay taken mostly as an afterthought–or just because I always have my camera with me, so why not? And the other night I was at a friend’s home that is on Albany Hill and overlooks almost the whole bay. After taking a couple shots from the deck, someone showed me the Richard Misrach book of the Golden Gate. It was inspiring. I came to see the intrinsic interest of a series of photographs of one thing taken over all the different conditions to which it may be subject. I think I may try my own little series from a given vantage point and see what happens. If only I could get a neon martini glass, or rusted car, or dead cow or something in there…
It began with writing. I found it harder and harder to do. The entries slowed to a trickle and then virtually stopped. It spread to the camera. I was able to shoot, but not with any focus or care. Going through the results at the end of the day, or week, became more and more confusing and difficult. And yet, I feel the need to get the expression out more than ever before. There are many parts to the problem, some of them seemingly contradictory. On one hand, I feel at a loss as to what exactly to try to develop in my photography or how to go about it. I feel like I’ve burned out on square format, color-tweaked, cropped cars. Everything I’ve done seems so dull and amateurish. On the other hand, I have so many ideas floating around that seem like good starting points that I can’t focus on any one for very long. Or even get past the contemplation stage. Underlying all of it is a vague feeling that I should not be thinking about this stuff at all, given my current under employment and other life obligations.
A small breakthrough tonight after returning from a “flickr photographers” show at Vox in Sacramento. Flickr friend Tom Spaulding had some nice work in the show. The show was inspirational, as was art at a couple other galleries, and the whole art party craziness of the Second Saturday Art Walk. It was my first time seeing it, and I was impressed by the sheer size of the turnout and number of galleries, music, clubs, restaurants and other participants. It was definitely worth the hour drive.
Browsing and organizing shots from the past month or so, I came back to this shot of the Vista Cruiser and Barracuda and just really liked it. It vaguely reminds me of Robert Bechtle, whose work I really like and whose name has come up in conversation with artist friends a couple times recently. I tried it in black and white, and really liked that too. It feels like the start of a return of clarity. If I can just keep at it, one shot at a time…
As far back as when we lived in Fresno and regularly drove to the Bay Area for shows or to visit relatives, I was enamored of the scenery along Hwy 99. How far back is that? Well, it was before the housing boom and bust, before the first tech boom and bomb. Before graduate school in the Great Northwest gave me the opportunity to appreciate scenery vastly different and yet, at times, strangely familiar. What nature wrought was vastly different. What humanity wrought, strangely familiar.
Before Flickr, before I had ever heard of Stephen Shore, and before I realized the importance of acting on the impulse, I intended to do a photo essay of the road between Fresno and Oakland that would consist entirely of old, usually free-standing signs that no longer had buildings or businesses associated with them. I would call it “The Lexicon of Abandonment”. (I suppose I could now work on a series called “The Lexicon of Procrastination”; perhaps I’ll get to that soon.) Among the most memorable abandoned signs we would pass along the highway was a wonderful old sign at the entrance to a drive-in theater in Merced. I believe it was called “The Starlite Drive-In” and it was, of course, a fabulous mid-century specimen. But even 20 years ago, it stood in front of an otherwise empty field of weeds, tall and forlorn along the roadside.
My intention probably suffered a mortal blow during the recent development boom when many old, abandoned buildings, signs, or other things, were finally torn down to make way for the new and shiny. A new development right along old 99 finally brought down the Starlite. I never shot it. That’s not to say there aren’t still many abandoned old signs out there. But just as in the Little Prince, that Starlite was special because it chose me and I chose it.
There is something else along this strange stretch of road that greets me like a tired old friend each time I traverse it. Just north of Merced on the west side of the road and next to the railroad tracks, runs a series of telephone poles. For a long time, years, they seemed to be in use and maintained, if only barely. But now, many are leaning, missing cross pieces, or simply snapped off. Here and there, wood hangs limply from the sagging wires. Sometimes, it is all on the ground. To me, they look like lonely sentinels along a desolate road somewhere in the midwest. They wave to me when we go racing by on our frantic Fresno excursions to visit family. Now, I’m acting on the impulse and waving back, with my camera. Sitting shotgun, I aim through the glass and get what I get: portraits of my old friends looking just as I’ve always known them, flickering by 65 mph.
I noticed the purple Nova while biking to work one morning. The intense color caught my eye. I took a couple shots, and I noticed right away on the camera that the color was not as bright and not as purple in the image. This was true on the computer as well, and I sort of forgot about it for a while. I didn’t think it would amount to much.
A couple weeks later, I started fooling around with the post-processing work on it, and got something I rather liked. I eventually uploaded something to flickr, and it suddenly turned out to be one of the more interesting and popular things I’d produced in awhile. (Bear in mind that I measure these metrics in small fractions of what most flickr pop stars do, so my data set is pretty limited. Nonetheless it seems meaningful to me!) I guess the moral of the story is that you can never tell what is going to resonate with people. At least I can’t.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats
Thursday is bike to work day, and that seems to be setting the tone for the week. My friend David wonders why anyone would live the automotive life after witnessing Seattle’s hellish cross-town traffic from the speediness, if not safety, of the bike lane.
I have been back in the saddle biking to work for a couple weeks now. I can definitively say the exercise has improved my disposition tremendously. But that’s not all. The opportunities for amusement are boundless, especially if you live in a place like Berkeley. This morning I found this enticing rest stop at one of Berkeley’s famously infuriating traffic diverters. Everybody I know hates these things designed to keep you on the slow crawl main arteries. But I love, I mean LOVE, riding through them on my bike.
I came across this a few minutes after coming across a medium-bad car accident just a couple blocks from my house, where a couple of Honda’s fought over the right-of-way through an intersection. (Sorry, no pics of that.) That’ll wreck your commute.
Of course, KQED’s morning news and traffic reports have been making much of how light the commute is becoming and attributing it to gas prices. I can certainly confirm the relative emptiness of the roads. It’s even making biking to work easier.
I had decided early in 2007 that I really wanted to get back into photography and that I wanted a decent DSLR for the family trip to Greece. So in spring I got the Nikon D40x and started trying to learn it and get used to seeing my world through the viewfinder.
I got a fair amount of practice in before the trip and took over 700 shots while there. That was a lot of shots to curate and process, so I slowed up on shooting for a couple of weeks. Of course, I threw hundreds away. And there were few that were any good at all.
It didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere very fast trying to improve my photographic skills, at least not insofar as satisfying myself with the results went. But then in October I took some shots around the neighborhood and also landed on a post-processing approach that resulted in a look I really liked a lot. It was a turning point of sorts.
I guess what is going on in these photos is this. Sarah and I have been into vintage “everything” for a long time—deco, 50s, space-age, etc.—ever since our punk/new wave days in the early 80s. My middle-aged nostalgia has ramped this up lately. And obviously I am not alone in this as there is a pretty huge retro scene that has moved from the underground into the mainstream.
And of course, flickr provides a great forum for people interested in documenting the cars, buildings, furniture, signs, graphics, and ephemera of the last century. In terms of photography, I enjoy documenting this disappearing world. I try to photograph it in the wild, as it were. In other words, I don’t seek out shows or conventions where stuff is on display. Rather, I am interested in things in their natural context of use.
This leads to the second part of the turning point, which is the processing of the image to look more like an old photograph of a “new car” than like a pristine digital shot of an “old car”. But not quite. There’s a juxtaposition of old and new together in the image that I can’t quite articulate, but that is part of what I am trying to get to. If I were reading more about art and photography, I would have a ready-made description of the approach I am struggling here to describe.
Another important influence is my co-worker Joe Reifer. Talking with Joe and going out together for a lunchtime stroll to shoot has taught me lots. Joe is a great photographer and has been very generous with his knowledge of photography, on everything from taping up a Holga to the business of selling usage rights for one’s work. I can’t thank him enough. And this shot of Joe and the Travelall was really popular among flickrfolk!
Last evening I attended for the first time the sf flickr group meeting. It was really nice to meet everyone and have a chance to shoot at the Palace of Fine Arts as the sun went down. A quick review of the download didn’t reveal any particularly great photos. Perhaps with some post-processing, something interesting will come into view.
One of the interesting things that happened was there there was a person their interviewing folks for a magazine story about flickr and the digital revolution in photography. I was so amped up from driving like a maniac to get there on time that I ran my mouth off about this, that, and the other thing. Talking about it did help to clarify some of my thoughts about more about what I think I am doing with photography. [I'll talk more about that in this space later.]
In any case, after walking around the POF for awhile we retired to the Grove Cafe (?) for food, drink, and conversation. A great group of people and all around good time.