I'm rescheduling our workshop, The Photograph Within, for early June.
The new version will have more review time, and new performance enhancement techniques from Robin. If you're new to this, The Photograph Within is a workshop on connection and attunement, namely, how to recognize your body's signals and quickly get into the zone of creative flow.
It is spring back here in the Northwest. I came home to daffodils and the current bush in bloom and the pear and maple trees in leaf. Today at the Fill the sky was full of swallows, which made me inordinately satisfied. The swallows are back, which tells me that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the world is still set right. There was a lot of migratory activity, way too many Robins around to be local birds, and the ones on territory were having a fit chasing off the clueless out of towners. The winter ducks, like the Wigeons, are still thick, but there are big rafts of Bufflehead in the lake, and I saw a group of Ring-necked Ducks, which I have not seen all winter.
It is an interstitial moment in my busy spring schedule, between work last week in Chicago and week after next in DC. The last assignment is delivered. I can work on other projects, but it seems far too much time is generally taken up with managing the files. Just making sure they're all in their triplicated places and up to date. For my off site storage I use internal hard drives that I've replaced with bigger ones, which means some of my data is scattered across drives as small as 60gb. They're old style IDE drives, formatted for PCs, and I've been having a time making sure I still have a means to access them. My last external drive box bit the dust and I replaced it with a nifty USB to IDE cable, but for some reason the Mac is balking at reading these drives, or at reading more than one in a row.
I have a stack of newer SATA drives, since I've upped the capacity in my Mac Pro, and I have a decommissioned Drobo that once held four drives, and that seems to no longer have a place in my backup regime. It's going on Ebay. The Drobo is problematic and slow—I once tried to use it to back up one of my full terabyte drives, and it took 29 hours to transfer the data. Then I used a SATA cabled box, and it took under two hours. So now all my data fits on seven hard drives, ranging from 250 to 1000gb. These will live across the street at my mother-in-law's house.
So long as I don't spend entire days at these tasks, and I can get out and count the ducks and do my Daily Photo, life is in balance.
Giusepe Cade, "The Meeting of Gatier, Count of Antwerp, and His Daughter, Violante, c. 1787
After my assignment I stopped off at the Art Institute of Chicago, which has free admission on Thursdays after 5. The place was crowded, so I allowed myself to bypass many of the more congested galleries, which were invariably the French Impressionist Greatest Hits rooms. What I was looking for was something that I needed to see at that moment.
My strategy for a museum is to enter a gallery, glance at all the masterworks begging for my attention, and feel which one, and only one, of them is calling me at that moment. This is the one painting, or sculpture, or artifact in the room I will lavish with my attention.
In this case, I was gravitating towards groupings of people. I am photographing people a lot lately, and I suppose I needed some advice on how to proceed. Every compositional problem you encounter, someone has solved it before you. You need not reinvent the wheel. In this case, I found some novel solutions in some 17th and 18th century works that I had never noticed before.
On the way, through the subway-platform-cum-art-gallery rooms, I had to pause at some Monets. No one I can think of handles light, particularly hard midday light in a landscape, better than Monet. How does he make it work? Then there's the compositional uniqueness of Degas. Even when he's not fawning over dancers, he comes up with a way of arranging the frame that appears explicitly photographic. It's no surprise that Degas was also an ardent photographer.
We do not work in a vacuum. What we choose to expose ourselves to affects the art we make. Edgar Degas, "The Millinery Shop, 1879/1886"
A location photographer's stock in trade is his/her skill in environmental portraiture. If you get hired by a magazine, 95% of the time that's the gig—photograph someone (usually some white guy in a tie) in an environment. Like their office. Or their workplace. If you're lucky, you get to drag them to someplace that has some metaphorical association to the story. Like the risk management expert that I perched underneath a maze of highway overpasses, back when stories of them collapsing was in the news. For a cultural instant it had the frisson of a dangerous place to be, and it worked for the story.
This week I'm photographing some typical hyper-achieving Uchicago students/graduates in something that resembles what they do. A playwright on a stage, looking beyond the fourth wall. A couple of improv artists, pretending to be gargoyles. A violinist-composer, who brought in some friends (viola, cello, harp) for a faux performance for the camera.
In each instance, what was the most wonderful aspect of the encounter was getting to spend a little time in someone else's world. The playwright was a “little communist baby” in Poland, and we had a wonderful discussion about the role of paranoia in the current political climate. With one of the improv guys we mixed up our jackets, which were identical, which made me either totally cool or him totally nerdy. When I had them looking over a balcony I said, you know, this is a reprise of the Beatles Blue Album. The reference went over their heads, which allowed me to tease them about their lack of cultural literacy. With the musicians I had a lot to talk about, mostly in musical arenas beyond their direct experience because I'm such a folkie and they are all classically trained, and we riffed on the differences between the traditions.
What I tell baby photographers is, don't get a photography education. It's only a skill set, and it changes every five years anyway. Get a liberal arts education. Learn everything you can about everything. Your job, if you choose to stay in this profession, is to be curious for a living.
"What have you been doing with your sensor?" asked Bill at Cameratechs. "There was soapy gunk all over it."
I take my cameras in to be cleaned before every assignment. The only cleaning I ever do myself is to blow the dust around with a blower. I won't touch a sensor with a pad or a brush--I've only ever made them dirtier that way. The professional cleaning is just another business cost for me.
"I haven't been anyplace particularly dirty," I said, meekly. I felt like I was being chided for poor hygiene. If I'm someplace dry, like an overheated building in winter on the East coast, I will run the shower for a few minutes to knock down the dust level in the air, then clean my sensor in the bathroom. "That wouldn't do it," Bill said. "It looks like something greasy was blown onto the sensor."
And it was me blowing it on, I figured out. It's my air blowers, which I've been packing around in my camera bags for years. Who knows what kind of crud has built up inside of them?
When I picked up my camera I also bought a new Rocket blower (with the fins trimmed off so it'll pack easier). When I got home I threw away all my old ones.
This link will take you to two stellar videos that came out of the Platypus Workshop. John Lehmann and Peter Power, from Canada's Globe and Mail, shot and produced these post-Katrina stories. Whatever it is that they put in the water up there, I want some. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/survivingkatrina