Monday, December 20, 2010

The Ones That Get Away

Sometimes, the story of how the photo got away is better than the photo would have been had it worked out.

During an evening walk along the outdoor mall in Santa Monica, which is of course covered in everything Christmas, we came across a well-decorated, nicely lit Christmas Tree. My partner commented that it would make a nice Christmas card (a project we had talked about briefly before), so I decided to see if I could get a snap of this tree. Since I had my wide lens with me, I figured I could stabilize the camera on the ground and that would still give me enough image data to make a nice 5 x 7.

Of course, this was not to be.

Setting the camera on the ground of course makes looking at the in-camera meter impossible, so I made a guess and winged it using the top LCD. The first shot was WAY overexposed, so I closed my aperture to make up for it. While fumbling with my settings, a presumably homeless, or at least mentally unstable man was kind enough to walk right into the frame and, just as I hit the shutter, UNPLUG the lights to the tree.

I was admittedly confused by this, initially thinking that I had just overcompensated the exposure. Of course, the buildings on the side look just about right don’t they?

In hindsight though, I think the experience of the photos I DID get are much more memorable and precious than a perfect, or even mediocre Christmas tree could have been.

It was better to have a good laugh than a good photo.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Real Legacy

I suppose it's the very essence of meditation draw unusual conclusions from seemingly unrelated things. Since I try to make photography something of a meditation, it hopefully answers the question "how did this guy make THIS connection?"

The bottle that was so carelessly discarded on this sea wall, projected me millions of years into the future, to a time when other species as evolved as we are looking at what we leave behind. Much the way that we are able to detect the footsteps of long extinct species, they too may find what we leave behind, and learn about us from the slight chemical variations the bottle's owner left before abandoning it here.

Without the least intending it, from the moment we are conceived we will leave a permanent scar on this planet, and to some degree the universe in general. Even the minuscule details will be recorded. Though our passing and the erosion of what we leave behind will appear to erase our existence, as shown by those life forms that have gone before us, we have only changed the way these inevitable processes take place.

Who will find us? If we acquire the evidence of a birds footsteps dating back millions of years, then surely a future intelligence will find the remains of a species as organized we are about storing those who have passed on. Yet, it really will be the little things we do that will be of the most interest. Piers like this will erode, our finest architecture and feats of engineering will fall into the sea or be the makeup of some future grand mountainscape. The DNA from the fingers and lips of a once thirsty individual will likely show a future intelligence who we were and what we were like. It is, our true legacy.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Waiting Room

There are times when I take photos where I don't know what, if anything, the end result will be. Despite my best attempts to control the elements, the shutter speeds and depth of field, ultimately so much of what winds up actually getting captured is still left up to chance. In this case though I was blessed with a near perfect combination of elements. The light was good, or at least enough that I could achieve what I was after. The subject was static, giving me ample time to compose, test, and shoot from several different perspectives. Best of all, I had an idea in my head about what i wanted the final result to be, and given the other circumstances, was able to store the information in a way that I could get there without cheating too much on the post processing.

In my head, I felt that it would be cool to get this Endless Summer look. Endless because, while now firmly entrenched in October, we here in San Diego find that we are finally getting the summer we had been hoping for during the rather gloomy months July and August. Of course, this attempt at a relaxing mood is overshadowed by the markedly busy arrangement of the elements. Even though the bikes seem to be the focus, in fact the whole photograph is filled with those things that make up a perfect Southern California summer. This busy arrangement of elements got me thinking about all of the methods we use to distract ourselves during the course of our lives.

Are the things we occupy ourselves with really life, or simply a distraction from life?

From almost the instant we are able to comprehend such things, our spaces and our heads are filled with a nearly endless array of distractions. The resort setting, the docks to house our sailboats, the surfboards and of course the bikes that, if not well preserved for decades were painstakingly made to look that way. All generally positive, these are the fun things that make the less spectacular aspects of our lives easier to swallow. I should note that I am not overlooking the irony of the distractions I'm currently engaged with just in making this blog. Of course this only means the resort setting can be a living room with HDTV's and Play Stations, tricked out automobiles with sound systems loud enough for a Megadeth concert, or a Nikon camera with a charged battery and a 4GB memory card.

I'm reminded of how, when we are waiting in a doctors office, we are presented with a pile of aging magazines. Left with nothing else to occupy our minds but an endless list of possibilities (generally not good ones) our only other option is to distract ourselves with outdated celebrity gossip, medical articles that most of couldn't begin to understand, and half completed puzzles and mazes designed for eight year olds.

Most of us have some notion that something lies beyond what we define as life, even though most admit we can't begin to understand what it is. Depending on beliefs and attitude what we have to look forward to can be wonderful, unnerving or even downright frightening. Yet being in the position we are in, where there is nothing we can do other than wait for the answer to this question, we must find something to do in the meantime. Some of us will bury ourselves with work, hoping a lifetime of ambition will make us satisfied. Some will push the absolute limits of human capacity, hoping to always feel more alive. Some will take thousands of photographs then write articles trying to apply spiritual meaning to them, hoping for some understanding of his own. ;-)

The bikes have been, at least temporality, abandoned while their owners find something else to occupy them. Perhaps this aspect is the most spiritual in the photograph; the part that reminds us that the real meaning of life is simply what we take in when we are not engaged in these distractions. At the risk of contradicting myself I will admit we need these things, be them bikes, cameras, computers or cars, as they do serve to keep us engaged in this life it is right now. moreover, we don't always need to be engaged in such heavy thought. The simple pleasure of pedaling by the shoreline is just as good for the soul. Maybe that is the meaning.

Whether waiting for our turn to see a physician, or our turn to have that most pressing of cosmic questions answered, we are wise to remember that these things don't happen on our time. Might was well have something to do in the meantime.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stumbling across balance.

I have always said this was supposed to be about finding balance. I suppose short of happening across some street gymnasts or tight-rope walkers (which at this point wouldn't be that much of a surprise), this is about the best I'm going to get in a literal sense.

When I saw this initially I looked at my friend and said “that looks fun,” followed immediately by “I would fall, my balance isn't that good.” Up came the camera.

Usually I have some idea what I'm going to write before I decide whether I will post it. Though I admit with this one I am struggling a bit to write this. Oddly, I know what I want to say, but I just can't seem to fit it into the confines of English! Perhaps that is due to a level of imbalance in my own life right now.

I do believe that things ultimately balance each other out; that each disturbance is settled by some restoration to order, or even a great joy elsewhere. Of course, to the person being disturbed, this may be of little comfort in this idea that this chaos is working out well for someone else. Perhaps when we hear “this too shall pass,” it simply means that both the ups and the downs will eventually stabilize. Even though I'm posting this where anyone could happen across it, it’s becoming evident this photo, and this topic were something I needed to think about.

The diamond-like reflections that show the waves are in fact evidence of disturbances evening themselves out, whether it be the stabilization of his small waves, or the larger wakes caused by the powerboats and jet skis he is sharing the bay with. Hopefully to this man, it is simply a beautiful day that he gets to spend on the water.

For me, I suppose it's the reminder that when things don't seem to be going all that well, that it IS in fact temporary, and the pendulum is going to swing the other way at some point. In the meantime, I have to remember to take the time to enjoy the days where I can. For as struggles will pass, so will the time between them.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Peak or Segue?

I would like to put my “asterisks” here. First off, I don't want to come across as sanctimonious or pious in any way. My goal, both in writing and photography, is balance; all “either/or” creates is conflict. Secondly, I don't know the answer to evolution/creation question, and I'm certain no one else does either. My best guess is that they simply are one in the same. I do think that life adapts to deal with changing situations and to meet new challenges, but don't think it's reasonable that life and everything leading up to it is just some colossal accident.

With my little disclaimer out of the way, I suppose it's odd that these photos could have any connection at all, much this connection. Taken months apart, with two different cameras, one the day before I started this blog, the other well before I had even considered one. Yet, as often happens when filing slides here they were. Snaps that didn't resonate the first time under the loupe suddenly begin to make sense when held up to a window.

Seeing a machine like this in motion is at first impressive. No doubt, it is the collective effort the designers and engineers who brought it into existence. It goes so far beyond that, being, as many products are, the culmination of a journey billions of years in the making. With tools like this, it's no surprise that we think of ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution.

Humans, as far as animals are concerned, are really nothing special when you think about it. We're not that fast or strong, our senses are mediocre at best, except possibly our eyesight (and as a man with 20/400 vision, I'm not all that impressed). We're not very adept at climbing, swimming, and much past being able to walk upright, don't have any major physical advantages. We're not small enough to hide in holes, or big enough to be intimidating. Obviously we needed to do something to get this far.

If I can't outrun it, then I'll have to outsmart became the key. The question is, will we eventually outsmart ourselves right out of existence?

Of course, it leads to the question about our own evolutionary state. Are we really anything special, or are we just passing through? There is a tinge of arrogance to the idea that we are the peak of anything. We sure like to think that we've got this civilization thing all figured long as you don't count the fact that we don't seem to be able to stop fighting for 10 seconds. Yes, it is our big brains that were able to concoct these amazing feats of engineering and technology, and we seem intent on using it to destroy ourselves.

For some time I've theorized that that in most cases, the advantage that we develop to avoid being voted off of the evolutionary island is what ultimately leads to a species undoing, and looking around, I don't think that we are the exception. We can look around and see genius taking all forms, and many of them are destructive. Here, we see a basic human activity, one that people who disagree on nearly every other aspect of what is considered healthy agree on, being replaced by a machine. Especially considering we live in a time where the state of our collective health is in such a rapid and dangerous decline, doesn't it seem odd that we would put the ingenuity we used to survive in the wild with animals that were far faster and stronger than we, into adding to our troubles? Some may think it's the nuclear bomb or the toxic gasses being pumped into the air that will bring our end. Though I suppose the question could be answered by something totally out of our control (c'mon asteroid), I look at things like this and see our evolutionary strength unraveling our species before our very advanced eyes.

It's easy to be an atheist when you don't think about where anything came from.

As mentioned, I don't know that evolution is even the case, though I'm pretty sure what people see as two separate things are really just two sides of the same coin. The idea of some power watching over us, pulling strings here and there isn't as out there as some would have us believe. I usually use my “coffee cup” analogy; a coffee cup didn't just happen to come together in it's current form. Someone conceived of it, designed it and eventually made it, right? Well, here I sit on this piece of rock, a perfect distance from a perfectly sized star, where we, life, have flourished in so many strange, colorful and wonderful ways. The parameters in which the diversity of life that has come and gone before us is so narrow; just a few feet this way or that way, and none of this would be. Is it really so far fetched to think that there is something or someone bigger at play here?

All things in balance I suppose. God, evolution and society each pull us in thousands of directions at once, and I wonder if, as these ingenious walking replacements whiz past my equally innovative (though admittedly dated) image capturing device, if the pulls of religion and science are here to balance us, or if they will ultimately pull us apart.

The man that knows something knows that he knows nothing at all. – Erykah Badu.

Sounds about right.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Twisted reflections

We see ourselves every day. At first intentionally as we decide how we should look for the rest of the world. Then, throughout the rest of the day, we come across ourselves in everything from store windows to rain puddles. Each time we see ourselves, it is distorted by color and shape, constantly being molded by the cause, elements and situations that make up the reflection in the first place.

However, even in the perfect mirror, is how we perceive what is on the other side of the glass ever accurate? Sure, there is a likeness of what we think we look like staring back at us, along with a reversed image of otherwise familiar surroundings. Most obviously, the memory of our appearance that we take away from our daily observation is backwards. The slight asymmetries that give us character are on the wrong side, viewed and remembered exactly opposite from what those around us see.

Yet there are more subtle versions of this distortion. Whatever the source, our minds are also filled with all of the notions about what we should be, what we are, how we are or are not living up to whatever standards we have accepted. Society places its standards on us about how we should look and act, so while the person on the other side of the glass starts out as an image of a real person, it is filtered by the programming our brains have received.

Taking a sculpture that is entirely coated in a reflective surface gives one a more intentional twist on the mirror images we think are so commonplace. Yet this simple view, with the severely limited angle of view the camera provides, in many ways preserves more of what we remember a place like this to be. Even though we can only view at one time about as much as the lens on this camera could capture on a frame, our brains stitch the scene together into a memory. Elements that are otherwise in opposite directions become a single, continuous thing. Being able to see in many different directions, notably the skyline bending opposite the sun setting into the water, it turns out what we think is a twisted reflection created by the brilliantly orchestrated surfaces is in many ways less of a lie than the flat glass we use to prepare ourselves to leave the house in the morning.

Even as I was taking this photo, I was trying to put my own programming filter onto the final result, positioning myself to look as if I was not at this location at all. Such an obvious lie, yet one we seem to be willing to tell our viewers, and perhaps on some level even believe.

Though seemingly just a simple abstraction of a sculpture captured on film, it does serve to open our minds to the misrepresentations of all reflections, and open us up to being more honest with ourselves. Sometimes it takes a bent reflection to straighten everything out.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Los Angeles to San Diego (Via Asia)

Day 1: Los Angeles --

If Los Angeles isn't my favorite city in the world, it's certainly in the top 5 (it frequently changes places with London). So it's somewhat sad that this is the best I was able to come up with photographically...
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Day 2: In the Sky -- It just so happens that when I was growing up, I was constantly being told to get my head out of the clouds, a thought that returns to me whenever I fly...
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Day 3: Shanghai -- So much for being zen in China. Sadly the only photos I was really able to take were from the hotel room and the glass elevator before my travel partner decided to have a little meltdown, developing a case of 24-hr agoraphobia...
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Day 4: Shanghai (for real this time) --

Zen somewhat back in place, the meltdown finally subsided, I got out into Shanghai. While a smell that closely resembles rubber cement is still stuck in my nose, I do feel in many ways like I had just got magically sucked into a Discovery Channel special...
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Day 5: Sea Day 1 -- For the most part, I've been fortunate that I have not been plagued with motion sicknesses. There are only two times I can think of that I've ever had seasickness. The first was a particularly choppy day on a sailboat...
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Day 6: Busan, Korea --

If there was ever a day of shooting that fit right in with the basic concept of the this blog, it would have been today. Of course, I suppose that the whole enlightenment thing would imply that I should be able to have the same feeling of peace on...
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Day 7: Hiroshima, Japan --

Living in the age of terror, holy wars and reality television, you would think that we would become immune to the capacity the human animal has to cause pain. Being of, albeit remote, British descent (a people who have made a fine art of concocting horrible...
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Day 8: Osaka, Japan --

Another day in Japan is being rained upon, and it looks like it will be that way for the rest of my time in Japan. I know that so much of my anticipation about coming back to Japan was to see the culture of it with the perspective of being...
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Day 9: Sea Day 2 -- Well, kind of a sea day. Technically, I had time to go back into Osaka for the morning, but decided that a sauna and breakfast (followed by another breakfast) sounded more like what I was after...
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Day 10: Kagoshima, Japan --

Could it be? Could it really really be? Just when I had resigned to the fact that Japan was simply going to be a wet experience, it goes and gets sunny. It would turn out that, between a clear day and lots of volcano eruptions (the fun touristy kind, not the screaming melting flesh kind)...
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Day 11: Sea Day 3 -- Again no photos. I suppose the only reason that I'm writing this is because I don't want there to be any gaps in this little blog-a-thon of mine. Also, there appears to be no internet given that everyone with iPhones are clogging the...
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Day 12: Taiwan --

Quite possibly the most boring port of the trip, but in the best possible way. As my photos download in the background, I'm recounting today in my head realizing that we spent the entire day doing the most touristy thing possible...
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Day 13: Sea Day 4 (The Last full day of the cruise) -- This is the part I hate. Especially given that there isn't a port to be explored today, I'm in that strange mental state between not wanting the cruise to end, and just wanting to get the **** off the ship. Of course, all of my...
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Day 14: Hong Kong --

The day, as to be expected, started with a monster bummer as we disembarked from the ship. A lot of the people that I had gotten to know during the 10 days were staying on for a second leg in southern Asia, so I really felt more like I was...
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Day 15: Flying Home -- Though perhaps not quite in this style, I have returned from Asia before. Anyone who's made the journey in this specific direction knows the disorientation that flying for 10 hours, only to have it be earlier than when...
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Day 16 :: San Diego -- When all is said and done, home in one piece. I had decided that the extra day off wouldn't hurt to make sure I'm back on US time before diving head-first into real life. For better or worse, I'm going back on a Friday, which now that I...
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