Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cold Duck!

Yesterday, it was over 80 degrees under scattered clouds Where I Am Now. Today, it's solid gray above and 39.

But it was business as usual at a local stream called, appropriately enough, Duck Creek....

PARENTHETICAL GUESS-I'M-TOO-CYNICAL-SOMETIMES THOUGHT: At first glance, I dismissed Duck Creek as something dredged out as a kind of visual bonus to attract customers when this area was transformed from farmland to endless streets lined with endless brick houses, all remarkably similar. Nope...turns out Duck Creek was here first. It has, of course, been tamed a bit, with adjoining pathways, cement walls and little dams to control the flow.

But the ducks are still there by the dozens (sometimes, by the hundreds), along with miscellaneous other species of avian life...

They don't seem as keen on migrating to escape the chill as I would have expected. People feed them here; I suppose that has a lot to do with it.

Free meals wouldn't be enough of a lure to make me paddle around in that chilly water, though.

PARENTHETICAL PICTORIAL "TURDUCKEN" (*retch*) THOUGHT: I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but a flock of 'em hang at Duck far as I know, there is no nuclear waste facility or Secret Gubmint Research/Torture Facility around here....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If it weren't for kids with chalk...

...I wouldn't have a picture to post today!*

Walked six miles in the sun and found nothing at all that made it worth pulling the camera out of its carrying-case. I've hinted that this area is singularly dull image-wise, and now I'm out-and-out saying it. It's nowhere for a photographer.

I'll say one thing, though: this kid's a real Texan. Or maybe illiterate.

* Yeah, like you care....

PARENTHETICAL I'M-NOT-A-TOTAL-DUMMY (MOST OF THE TIME, ANYWAY) THOUGHT:  I do happen to know that "dogie" is, as the dictionary reminds us, a Western term for a "motherless calf." I remember "Git Along, Little Dogies," as performed by a bazillion cowboy singers (usually twangin' away on a gee-tar while astride their hosses). I still think this was cute, and kinda Texas-y....

Monday, November 22, 2010

More practice... which I learn that the camera's built-in "black and white" setting is better than monkeying around with the software I have....

I think Will Connell would like this one better, though I'd still prefer a darkroom and the necessary tools to put my knowledge of classic film processing and printing techniques to good use. Software? Phooey!

On the other hand, there are instances when a little color does help, "story"-wise...

One thing hasn't changed from my days of film photography to the Digital Age: I still don't want to mess around much after taking a photo. It has always been my objective to get the shot right in the camera and then do only what's necessary to put the image in viewable form.

PARENTHETICAL HEY-I-FORGOT-WHAT-I-WANTED-TO-TELL-ALL-Y'ALL NOTE: Anyone who loves (or even likes) photography  and history needs to bookmark and go there at least once a day! I know of no other place on the Interwebz that displays such a stunning array of photos. You could stare at the "full-size" images all day, picking out the tiny details. At least I could....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reading... own work. Well, a fraction of it, anyway. One of my former clients just sent me copies of some* of what I've done for them over the past decade, and it's quite a stack: a box-full of oversized printouts --running from one to six or seven sheets each -- and a couple of CDs containing all the original PDF files, which I can then pass along to potential future clients as samples of my writing and (in some cases) photographic "skills."

Wading through all this is not exactly a thrilling experience. First, and perhaps foremost, I am not working with this company now, and may never do so again. The obvious reasons -- "personality conflicts," complaints about the work itself -- don't apply; it's simply a matter of money. When the coffers run low, freelancers are the first to be shunted aside. Moreover, my "rabbi" there** with whom I worked from first to last, has been promoted to a new role at the company, and doesn't yet know how -- or if, or where -- he can use me.

I'm also not a big fan of rereading work I did years ago. Or, for that matter, months ago. Once it's in print, there's nothing I can do to improve, add, delete or generally mess with the story. As any writer can tell you, that urge is strong; nothing has ever been written that couldn't be improved, no photo has ever been taken that couldn't benefit from a rethink. At this stage, all those urges do is cause frustration.

It wasn't all great stuff. Editors messed with some of the copy***,  photo editors chose less-than-perfect images, layout people made text disappear, and once in a blue moon I screwed up, getting a fact or two wrong or grinding out a sentence so convoluted that editors just threw up their hands in horror and let it slide.

But there are a few winners in the pile, articles that I'll be proud to use as examples of what I can do.

Mind you, that's what I can do when I'm paid for it. Though these people were fairly free with the mazooma, they did have a bad habit of offering me rush jobs that didn't pay well, which I did simply to keep them smiling. I won't make as much anywhere else today, as story rates have dropped considerably.

The worst part of the whole deal is that I'm not doing this -- or any -- work right now. Never mind the fun I had doing some of the articles; not writing at all is painful. That has to change, and soon.

Much of my working past -- particularly in my most recent "career" -- was not all that wonderful. That it was better than now is depressing, and looking back at what I was doing tends to make that worse. If the favor these people did by digging up and sending me this pile pays off, it will be worth the sad moments spent looking at relics from a former time.

Cranky old Henry Ford famously said: "history is more or less bunk." To some extent, I have to agree with him. He might feel more strongly about that if he was around to wade through my past work....

* I'm guessing about 25-30% of the total, which went into three magazines the company published. These all come from one of them; more are said to be on their way soon.

** That's an old Noo Yawk term, likely with some underworld associations. In this case, a "rabbi" is not your spiritual leader, but someone who helps move you, for whatever reason, through a system.

*** In fairness, that seldom happened to me, and less often than normal with this company. Still, a hamfisted copy editor can mess up your whole day....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Still practicing...

...with the new camera.

I take it wherever I go, of course, but the photo opportunities are somewhat limited here. I'm not the type to say "oooh, another brick house! I must document that!"

Did see the city water tower in a somewhat different light when I walked past it today, so grabbed a shot.

At least I'll know how to use the camera when a worthy photo-op comes along!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where I Am Now... not, as was previously mentioned, exactly a Paradise for photography. It's not a bad place, just not what you'd call, well, overtly photogenic.

What that means is this: now that I'm again in possession of the necessary image-making device -- and I'm using the word "necessary" both in terms of being required for photography and needed for my mental health* -- I have to do a little hunting for photographic prey.

So what does this unnamed burg have?

Bricks. Lots o' bricks. The red, tan and dark-brown rectangular blocks are the local material of choice for homes, walls, commercial structures and, for all I know, trees and shrubbery**. Surround all the brickwork with cement for roads and sidewalks, and you have an overview of Where I Am Now.

You may notice a lack of driveways. The result in this car-centric*** town is driveways behind the houses, accessed via a network of alleys...

But all is not brick houses and glaringly white streets. If one walks around, and pokes into hidden corners a bit, one can find places that haven't been turned into housing tracts, shopping centers and industrial parks. There are small spots that remain absolutely bucolic, staving off Inevitable Civic Progress...

Moreover, there are one or two houses from the past to be seen, once you find them. They're worth the search, too...

This is not a new area by any means. I don't know when it was first settled, but it only took a walk past a local graveyard to learn that it was quite a while ago...

So, while this isn't precisely where I want to be, or where I intend to end up, it is Where I Am Now (mind you, I'm damn grateful to be able to reside here for now) and, with some walking and the heightened perception using a camera provides, I have to say it has more charms than first expected.

* Yes, I know some may argue that the camera's arrival came too late for that, but what the heck, it's a nice figure of speech....

** I kid, I kid. At least about the latter. The trees shed leaves and the shrubbery needs trimming, which obviously means they're not formed from bricks. I think.

*** More accurately, big ol' SUV or giganto pick-'em-up truck-centric.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I've got my eye back!

PARENTHETICAL ABANDON-HOPE-YE-WHO-ENTER-HERE THOUGHT: This may well be a long, long post. I have things to say, and intend to plod through them 'til I get to the end. This ain't Twitter, you know.

Yes, thanks to a very dear friend who understands me (and understands what drives me), I have a camera again. I couldn't be more pleased -- peering through that viewfinder is like breathing for me.

It has been a long time since my faithful Canon digital gave up the electronic ghost. Nineteen interminable months, in fact. During that time, I've had experiences and have been to places where the camera would have played an important role. But it wasn't there. I have not been pleased. In a way, I felt crippled without a camera.

When my friend -- no mean photographer herself -- told me the camera was on its way, I started doing what I used to do instinctively: I looked around me, searching for things to photograph. Where I Am Now is not exactly a photographic paradise; to be honest, it is dull as tepid bathwater visually.

It didn't take me long to see my first subject, though, and that brings me to Part Two of the story.

My godfather C. K. was a photographer, first as a Navy combat cameraman in the Pacific during World War II, then as a professional, and finally as an instructor at a well-known college for photographers and industrial designers. C. K., who met my father when both were teaching at that school, encouraged my early efforts with a plastic box camera. His advice was all the "schooling" in the craft I ever received.

Not content to pass along his own skill, C. K. showed me the work of a colleague at the school, a man whose talents he revered. That's how I learned about Will Connell; hazy memory tells me I met the man at some point, but it was his book, About Photography, combined with some prints of his work that had ended up in C. K.'s hands, that really grabbed my attention.

PARENTHETICAL FUNNY-WHAT-STICKS-IN-YOUR-MEMORY NOTE: I have always remembered the words with which Connell began the book: "The book will probably do nobody any good, because those who need it won't understand it, and those who understand it won't need it...." That has essentially become my philosophy when I'm asked to teach people how to do things...especially where photography is concerned.

From my fuzzy recollection of Connell, he was remarkably like C. K. Both men earned the old (and now politically incorrect) title of "Man's Man." They were rugged, outdoorsy guys with the eyes of artists.

Connell was famous -- at least to the "art" crowd -- for his sensitive and very human portraits and his photos of historic buildings. But his true genius, as I saw it, was as an industrial photographer who could make compelling and beautiful images from such prosaic subjects as aircraft plants and machines. And powerlines.

C. K.'s advice to me dovetailed perfectly with what I took from Connell's work. First, he told me to start with black and white film: "Color doesn't tell a story," he said. "The image does." This tied in with everything else he told me, the essence of which was that every photograph has to tell a story. Doesn't necessarily matter if the photographer and viewer take different stories away with them, but the story has to be there.

Connell's rich, black and white images of power transmission towers were compelling to me when I was young and impressionable, and remain so today, when I'm old and impressionable.

As a result, I was drawn, new camera in hand , to the local power lines....

Naturally, I've taken many other photos in the days since my new "eye" arrived. Some of them, or future images of wildly differing types and mainly in color, will get posted. I'm back to the habit of carrying a camera with me everywhere. I'll get better with it, too -- we're still getting acquainted.

But my first effort was guided by long-ago, long-gone influences who had so much influence on whatever "good" photos I've taken. So this is for you, C. K., and for Will Connell, the Master.

And for you too, D. You have given me back one of my greatest joys.