Who’s minding the store?

Unfortunately, I found myself the other day in extreme pain. It’s a long story, and I won’t bore you with the details (teeth-related, ugh). I’m much better now.

Earlier in the day though, I was whimpering and crying on public transportation on the way home. I had managed to watch some of the Germany-Brazil game in fits and starts between dozing and cold compresses… and I wondered if I was hallucinating when I woke up to see Germany with five goals. A line of storms rolled in during the dinner hour, and my power flickered on and off… the lights went completely dark at one point but came back on… I could hear the emergency generator in the parking lot singing to life. I dug through my closet and found my emergency lantern and some batteries, and curled back up on the couch like a pill bug. It’s amazing how your perception changes when you’re dealing with base level pain– how you ignore some things entirely (I never once looked out the window to see if it was really storming)– or your anxiety heightens (I was terrified a downed tree would knock out power and then I’d be in the dark, too).

At some point, I realized that I needed to make the trek to the pharmacy. Not only had it stopped raining, but a huge double rainbow filled the sky over my building (you could see the ends, tip-to-tip), but I couldn’t get a full shot with my phone. “It’s not everyday a rainbow is over your house,” a neighbor said, snapping many photos from the median. As we drove further into town, we stopped once with no one behind us on the road to get another shot. A parking lot near an industrial strip mall held a cluster of tough looking men in grubby work clothes and boots, pointing their phones at the sky. When we got to our destination, I managed to snap the below. If I wasn’t in such discomfort, I would have gotten the reverse shot too–  half a dozen pharmacy employees outside snapping pictures of the double rainbow. “Who’s minding the store?” one of them laughed. I remember thinking the answer didn’t matter.

I wasn’t inside more than 10 minutes… when I walked back out the car, it had vanished completely. It was a fleeting moment of joy during a very scary day, and I took comfort in the fact that so many others put their evenings on pause to look up and share this beauty with others.

Double Rainbow

Double rainbow from July 8, 2014.

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next one.

One of the hardest lessons I continue to learn is being OK with letting go. I’m not talking about “letting go” as it relates to death, or re-imagining how things might have been, necessarily. It’s learning to be all right with missed opportunities… particularly those that continue to be burned in my brain that I’ve watched slip through my fingertips.

Namely, missed photographs. It’s inevitable really. You’re without a camera somewhere, and you can’t turn off your brain. The woman with the neon striped sweater waiting to cross the street cradling a cornucopia of reddish purple flowers… or the moon-faced child with the cut frown mimicking the posture of his father sitting next to him on the metro train. They are split seconds, glimpses, and you’ve just missed them.

I try to “sketch” as much as I can in the full sense of Kerouac’s interpretation. I find that I don’t make certain photos sometimes because I want to get in and experience whatever it is—give an account of the minutia—or the things that I noticed specifically that might have been sidelined in a photo—a person’s mannerisms, the way they hold their emotions behind their expressions, the timbre of their voices. Arguably, these things can be captured by video—but I’d rather tell you—filtered through the lens of my own eyes and brain.

Unfortunately, time isn’t always helpful. I wait—digest—revisit before writing. Usually when I’m trying to pin something down, but then, memory intercedes and drawn the curtain down on the exact hue of someone’s dress and the cadence of speech… until all you remember is that they were wearing a yellow dress (not canary, not lemongrass) and that they didn’t say anything at all?

With those missed “glimpses,” I can always easily say, “I wish I had a camera” as a comfort mechanism. In Indonesia, on the west coast road in Aceh, I sped past moments in a Toyota Highlander with tinted windows, moving with traffic and overtaking trucks and motorbikes, weaving on either side of a single yellow line. We had a system, where I would sit up front with the driver and yell “stop stop” when I saw something, and then would jump out in the shoulder to see if I could get it.

In many cases, with my face pressed against the glass, I’ve pick something out 20 yards up the road, and track it as it got closer. I’d yell, “stop stop” when I could actually see it as it passed. But in many cases, we were already long past the spot, and sometimes I never asked to stop. So, high-speed travel is not conducive to photojournalism, but that’s a whole other conversation.

My operative phrase was, “I’ll get it tomorrow.” We traveled the same road everyday; I thought I was likely to see some of the same sellers and farmers again. No such luck. In fact, it’s never been the case. To convince yourself that you’ll get a 2nd chance to make a shot of something you saw days ago is foolhardy. And yet, I continued to do it for an entire week.

Perhaps it’s a hallmark of a young photographer… learning to let things go, and to change the internal mantra to “I’ll get the next one” (whatever the “next one” is– but it’s certainly not the one you just missed). Nevertheless, some of my missed images are still burned on my brain. My remembrance of them might prove useful as I write and analyze, but they haunt me. By way of a final send-off, here’s a few of my missed shots… remembered:

*

Rice farmers in paddies… two in particular I remember seeing vividly with triangle straw hats. They sat facing away from the road… their feet must have been drawn up in front of them or dangling over the edge of whatever they were sitting on (a board?)… as I could not see them from the road. They must have been taking a rest from farming…sitting about two-man widths apart—I could not tell I they were men or women. Perfect reflections of their sitting torsos and hats fell behind them into the seemingly pure azure water, dappled with rice that lay on all sides…almost making them into strange butterflies with triangle-capped wings. This is the postcard shot I missed.

*

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a toddler clutching a gun. Was it real? Does it matter? I was sitting with our group in the yard of a family in the village of our translator, paying attention to the conversation and events unfolding before me, when I turned my head. Towards the road, I saw a woman with her head covered with a lemon yellow scarf, holding the hand of a small toddler… maybe age two. The boy waddled slowly, his other hand holding a small dark handgun. It flopped in the open air, ill-supported by his baby wrists. It looked like an old-fashioned pistol… something a gangster would own. I blinked. I squinted harder. The woman and the boy strolled along the road behind a hedgerow and were gone. An extremely loud (and demanding-sounding) brown and white goat snapped me back to reality—insistent with his bleating. I was frozen to my chair, only a few seconds had passed, and I wasn’t completely sure of what I had seen. Remembered for so long…fact and fiction blurred… I wonder if I ever even saw it at all.

I’m not immune to fear, I know that now, but I also know I’ll get the next one.

Last light left on.

I’ve been thinking about the death of luminescence.

(Also, hello, it’s been far too long. Excuses could go here, but let’s not, and say we did.)

I recently read an article in the Post about a competition for an affordable “green” lightbulb. The winning unit sells for $50 a piece. Ok, sure.

The last American incandescent lightbulb factory closed in September 2010. We’re now in the middle of a gradual phasing out of the bulbs, until we’re left with only the new “energy efficient” models in 2014. Those dreaded acronyms… the CFLs and LEDs! I love the environment– don’t get me wrong– but I protest the phase out of the tungsten bulb at this point in time for an unconventional reason which does impact my daily life– but perhaps has gone unnoticed.

These bulbs are not luminescent. Sounds crazy… But really, I think that’s what bothers me the most. The quality of the light itself is different….incomparable. There are no “glowing lamps” anymore.

Perhaps this comes from my background in photography, but I find that I always size up the light in a given situation. Flipping through F-stops in my brain, I judge quality, intensity, tone and temperature in a few moments. It’s a habit, even if I’m not shooting. Quality of light sets the scene and dictates mood– any artist or person with Seasonal Affective Disorder will tell you the same thing.

These new bulbs, or at least their earlier prototypes (even a few years ago) flickered into being like their older, uglier predecessors…fluorescents… ticking and lighting with a gentle hum, a bluish diffuse light would appear after a delay and slowly grow…as if the sun had moved behind a cloud bank and decided not to reemerge for hours. Light, but not bright.

I had an early CFL light in my reading lamp in Boston a few years ago. I found that I preferred to read by the light of the window, or to leave my apartment entirely… than use that lamp. I determined that it replicated daylight on a mediocre day… one where you turn your face to the source and hope you can feel the gradual warmth on your face, but it never quite gets there.

Even in recent years, I found myself gravitating towards hideous “grayiege” colored lampshades in Ikea, hoping that they would counterbalance the blue haze. I have an “old bulb” in the lamp on my dresser for when I actually need to see things– to remove a tag, adjust a safety pin or search for matching earrings. This is the detail work that requires extra wattage and warmth… but otherwise, I’m trying to make the switch.

I admit, they’re getting better, but I won’t fully be on board until they can replicate that luminescence without just throwing some colored LEDs behind the glass. With an “old” lamp, casting it’s bronze cone around your reading chair, it could be raining sideways outside…wind whipping branches against the windowpanes, daffodils bent face down in seeping puddles, those unsuspecting walkers huddled in the nearest bus shelter…shivering in short-sleeves…but you’d never walk to the window to see.

Maybe it’s a false sense of security– to bathe in tungsten light’s warmth– but you want to be where it is. Desire overrides function. We turn on the lights for comfort (as a side note, I read Ray Bradbury’s “The Long Rain” the other day).

Now, we turn them on knowing we’ll extinguish them sooner rather than later. I guess “energy savers” have accomplished their goal…because they don’t quite offer what we really want.

clarity, times three.




POMx3.

Originally uploaded by hepcatbeatnik

Sometimes things don’t happen until you let them ferment… for a year. As I mentioned the other day, a friend of mine from college commissioned me to make an image of a pomegranate. After some toil last week, I finally put things together today…

This summer my hard drive on my laptop had a meltdown and needed to be replaced… I lost very little and was lucky… but the SD cards have been mounting up in my photo case and I’ve found it easy (too easy) to neglect my photo responsibilities. Today I uploaded hundreds of photos… ones I haven’t seen in months.

With a mega mug of Earl Grey, and Pandora set to an a capella selection, I slogged through every image. I’ll be posting many on Flickr as the week goes on. I hope that revisiting some personal work from the end of 2010 will help me shed some light on how photography fits into my life…as overly dramatic as that sounds!!

a true snow day.

a very happy snowman

After shoveling the driveway this morning, I built this guy in my backyard. Pretty dapper, don't you think?

building the torso:
rolling snowballs round and round
breaking sticks for limbs.

clay-pot hat, slight tilt…
sly mouth and a crooked nose
quizzical eyebrows.

Yesterday afternoon, when I switched on the TV to check out the storm track, our local weatherman relayed the exciting news… 3-4 inches of snow an hour!! At the time, we had a little sleet on the ground and some snow from a few hours before. I feared that we wouldn’t get anything, as is usually the case here in the Mid-Atlantic (I should note that I was not here last year for “Snowmageddon”– I was in Boston– the one place that ironically had an uncharacteristic winter… READ: LACK OF CRAZY SNOW… much to my dismay). While I waited for the snow, I decided it would be best to start on an art project I had been putting off for about two weeks.

A friend of mine from college commissioned me to photograph a pomegranate. I know what you’re thinking… easy (here was one of my early attempts.) Poms look like the product of a particularly nasty argument between an uppity citrus and a passion fruit. I like the juice well enough, but it’s a messy fruit. Its dismemberment is a sort of carnage… and I’ve had a tough time conceptualizing how to make this whole project work.

Let me just say that it reminded me of the scene from the film “Sleepy Hollow”– when Ichabod Crane chops up the roots of the tree and gets splattered with blood. I had to wipe off the exterior of my mini softbox a few times (have yet to process these images, but when I do I’ll post the finals). I emerged from the downstairs with a tray of sanguine pomegranate pieces and rosy fingers to find sideways snow crusting windows and weighing down trees.


I’ll leave you with a list of things I’ve done on this true snow day:
-knitting
-about 10 “hard” Sudoku puzzles
-accepted a job offer
-shoveled the driveway
-built a snowman
-tried to brush my kitten’s teeth… with malt-flavored toothpaste