Posts Tagged ‘Problems? What Problems?’

Because I Can CXXXI

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So originally when I saw this I thought it looked like a small fuzzy Beavertail Cactus.  I thought that was just a funny phrase.

In actuality it’s an Old Man Cactus, I think, and that name is not as funny.  I’m trying to learn all the vegetation out here, at least a little, and it’s going to take a while.

I did find a nice resource in Bird and Hike where they list the various habitats, and the various cacti around Vegas.

Also everything I thought was Beavertail Cactus is a member of the Pricklypear Cactus family.  More to learn.

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Party for the Laid-Off

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This was a party for the group of us that were laid-off.  Some of the people here saw their last day and some just came to buy drinks and talk…and maybe do a little singing as well.

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No Plan Survives

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No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.

– Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke

Every few months I have to shoot a couple of months worth of magazine covers for our various parenting magazines. These shoots almost universally involve taking photos of kids, from newborns to about 10-year-olds. Kids…they bring a unique set of challenges.

Magazine covers need to pop more, need a extra over the inside images, and are worth, because they’re the first thing anyone is going to see who might decide to pick-up our magazines. So we put in the extra work to make the photos work better. We rent studios, we scout locations.

So on Monday of last week I was supposed to shoot a cover, it fell apart due to rain. The idea was to have a very fall (the season) photo. We were thinking fall colors. Since the shoot fell apart and I was already at the location I figured I’d spend the time location scouting. (I had already planned two hours in before the original shoot to scout, but as the reschedule was for 8am, I figured I’d do it at that point in the rain because I wouldn’t have time before the reschedule.)

So I go out, hunt locations with my assistant, look for good trees, take test shoots and notes. On Sunday the group of us get there, go to our location and start shooting. The trees have changed a bit, so there’s some on the fly adapting, but that’s normal. We shoot for about 3 minutes, make some changes, basically just get some test shots done, get ready to start again, and the subject, a 2-year-old girl, just falls apart. She’s done. This is shockingly normal.

At this point the other person from the office and I decided we needed a change of venue, namely some place where we would have something for the subject to play with. With kids, when in doubt, distract them from whatever is making them unhappy, usually by giving them something to play with. Actually, this works with adults also, but we won’t talk about that.

We went over to the Children’s Play Area. We found a spot, we went with it, we made it work. At the end of the day the hours of prep work amounted to 3 minutes and about 30 frames of return. I find that this actually about normal.

Which raises a question, why still do it?

It still surprises me how little the planning helps directly, and how much of a difference it makes. There is something about the planning process, it sorts the thoughts, it creates a structure, a framework to hang the rest of the shoot off of. It’s like the steel framework of a building. It doesn’t tell you what the final building will look like, but a good framework will is vital to building a strong building no matter what the final structure is.

The part of the process where we have meetings, it gets everybody on the same page, it gets ideas out there, and it gets communication started. Again, it creates a framework so when we start improvising we’re improvising towards the same goal, improvising starting from the same page. And in the end, we get a better product the better prepared we are. I’m sure that the planning would be even more valuable if we had subjects that didn’t bring a high level of unpredictability.

As it is, it makes all the difference in the world.
P.S. Oh, and if you wonder what I do when the child is crying. I check my exposure, look for new compositions, and laugh, sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud, and fidget some too.

P.P.S. And yeah, I like the later ones much better also.

P.P.P.S. And if anyone knows why blogger isn’t pulling up the full resolution image and seems to be pulling a lower res version than what I’m giving it, I’d appreciate the help. I love Goggle, but sometimes they do some wacky things I don’t get. These are tack sharp, or should be. Ugh.

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Goodbye Weekend Plans

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So I had plans for this weekend, mostly work plans, but plans. Basically Saturday morning survived and Saturday night, which was indoors, the rest of the weekend was thrown away. Such is the life of flooding and constant rain.

Instead I spent all day Sunday, half of which was supposed to be shooting a magazine cover on the Chicago River (ahh…the irony), standing in the Des Plaines River watching people sandbag and surveying damage. I don’t if I’ve ever treasured dry socks as much as when I got home. 6 hours of wading through a river is really plenty. But I do have to say in the world of problems, at least I have a dry home to go home to, and for that, I am thankful tonight.

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A Moment of Silence

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I knew coming into April that April was going to suck. It has. Royally.

On Monday I lost one of my closest friends, a friend who I’d spent literally 4 or 5 hours with a day at least a few times a week. Rarely would I not spend at least an hour a day with this wonderful friend. My beloved white 97′ Ford Escort is no more.

I didn’t treat it right. I wasn’t as kind to it as I should’ve been. It had a rough existence, just like everything that is close to me, it was used, abused, thoroughly beaten, but loved. I should’ve cleaned it more, lots more. I should’ve taken it in for maintenance quicker, for the last two months it had a tire that had to be filled up every week because of a “slow” leak. It had a dent that was never dealt with. It was in serious need of a car wash, serious need. The windshield had been cracked for the better part of a decade, it had leaks in multiple places (I’d laugh and swear as it rained on me while I drove), it liked to pull to the right, just a little, the windows were manual, and the number of times I had to tell people to lock their door as they got out I can’t count. Who besides me has…had…manual locks? And manual windows? The drivers side door would freeze shut on and off all winter, usually just the lock, but at least a few times every winter I’d be cursing as I climbed over the passenger’s seat to get in, and sometimes out.

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It always got me where I was going, reliably, until Monday. I was pissed when it busted. I was supposed to be having a picnic with a friend of mine. An event that would probably have been the highlight of my week. Instead I was sitting on the trunk of my car in a community college parking lot, which I had mistakenly gone to because I screwed up where my shoot was at. Sitting on the trunk, waiting for a tow truck, thinking the fuel pump was busted. I was annoyed. I was supposed to be having a picnic. It was over 70 and sunny. It was going to be such a good day.

I had, by some weird quirk of chance left my bike in the trunk of my car. At least getting home from the mechanic’s was going to be easy. A little before 4pm I got the call. I don’t cry. I just don’t. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just me. But I couldn’t handle that one. I only had a few minutes before I had to get running to my next shoot, but I shed a few for my Ford. The engine needed to be rebuilt, and, well, it’s a 97′ Ford Escort. The work was more than buying a new one. Nothing but dumb bad luck. Something involving the 4th piston and a lot of words I don’t quite get. Nothing I could’ve done. I can’t even feel guilty that it was somehow “my fault”, it wasn’t. It was just gone. It had seen it’s last trip.

137,000 miles, 90,000 of those with me.

It was my first car, my only car to date. I need to get a new one, this week or next. But I’m going to miss my white 97′ Ford Escort, affectionately known in my own head as the “411”.

You’ll always have a place in my heart.

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Long Live the Simple Joy of the Company of Good People

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I have a long rant on my company’s piss poor communication skills. I don’t have time to write it right now as I have to be able way early to drive a long way. Plus I just don’t feel like focusing on it. I want to enjoy life, be happy. Instead…

I got to hang with 75 people of all ages today who gathered outside the Art Institute to have a pillow fight.

You know what, it’s not your job that’s important, it’s not some item or such, it’s the simple company of good, happy people. We are, ultimately, almost all of us, that, good happy people. We just forget. Take pleasure in the company of those around you, don’t worry about what they think of you, hint, they think you’re good, you’re cool. (FYI – if I know you, I do as well. You are worth a lot to me, even if it’s been too long. That reminds me, gotta call Becky.) Enjoy it, do something simple, have some fun, but most of all, be happy.

And if you’re totally lost, smack em’ with a pillow. You know you wanta.

It’s going to be weeks before I get all the feathers out of my clothing.

That makes me smile.


Dreaming

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Why a picture of a building? Yeah, I take lots of photos of buildings, this building though I’ve dreamed about for about 13 years now.

I was first in this building back when I was assisting for a magazine and we were doing an in-house ad, “these are the people that read this mag!” Yeah, whatever.

It’s an old CTA substation up by DePaul. I was a block away for a shoot today and just happened to be walking by it. There are three buildings of it’s design in Chicago-land. This one, which is owned by a well known sculptor. Another in Oak Park, which I’ve also been in, humorously enough, which is owned by another well known artist and occasional sculptor. (Both work a lot in metals, hmm.) The third is on the south side somewhere and is apparently an industrial business of some sort. Metal work I believe. (hmm…)

Why do I love these buildings? Good question, thanks for asking. Starting from the front, if you go back to between the first and second window, that portion of the building is living space. 3 floors of pretty good size living space. The rest of the building is wide open. It’s an empty space. It also does have rails between the upper and lower sets of windows which hold an industrial strength winch, for lifting and moving CTA “L” cars.

If/when I get one of these buildings, I’m not entirely sure what I’d do with it. I might turn the open space into a giant studio space, it would rock. More likely, I’d turn it into a forest. Plant a couple of trees, get some birds, a few animals, and have my own Eden in the city. I always want to escape the city and get to the woods, but it’s hard to find the time. Imagine just coming home to it. It’s a large enough and well enough lit space to hold at least 3 large trees and some smaller foliage. Maybe a little pool, by little like 15 feet round with a stream.

And remember that industrial winch on rails? Imagine using the bracing of that, removing the hardware, putting in a sheet metal floor with small holes punched in, so you could see below you, and were able to look out over the forest. That would be my main living space. A bed, a bathroom (bathroom, no doors, just curved semi-opaque glass) and a little relaxation area. All open. Just my tree house above my forest in the city.

I dream of that space, I have for a long time, I always will. The details of getting there I just don’t know, but it’s a dream, I may find a way, but part of the joy is in having the dream.

Okay, so of my three “big” dreams, that’s number two. Let me give you a run down on one and three also.

Three is the least likely. Quit everything, move to Hawaii, surf in the morning, take pretty pictures of nothing meaningful in the late afternoon. Just escape the rat race, escape responsibility. It’s my escapist, won’t happen, and wouldn’t want it to happen dream, but it gets me through those tough days.

My number one dream, I’m pretty sure I can pull off. It’s going to be a few years, but I’ve got the initial plan, it’s just doing some foot work, and when I decide to do it, which I get closer to every year, I can get everything together in under a year.

I’m going to get myself a canoe, a bunch of supplies, cameras, solar cells, tent, sleeping bag, all that good stuff, and I’m going to canoe the Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson. It’s a little under 4,000 miles. I figure it will take 9 to 18 months. I’m not going to worry about just doing it. I’m going to use it as a conduit to explore the country and understand myself. I’ll blog the whole thing of course (it has some good book potential, and blogging might be able to provide me with a modest income while doing it, not to mention I’ll need to be journaling in some fashion, so why not do it publicly). I’ll probably make it a largely one way communication though, only one person with my email address, no incoming cell phone, all that good stuff. I’ll occasionally invite a friend to join me for a week, but not many, and not often. Mostly, I just want to meet the people on the central artery of this country. Talk to them, get to know them, document the river. The escapist aspect has been noticed also.

It’s a very doable dream, not easy, but definitely doable. The key is going to be getting to a point where I have nothing, or little, to leave behind. I’m not saying that is a good thing, but the closer I get to there, the more I see this as a viable option. I’d put 2 to 1 odds that I do it, someday. My best guess would be five years.

I’ve had a lot of serious life lately, and that’s fine, the last year has been wonderful, and horrible. If nothing else it’s been meaningful, and I wouldn’t give it back for anything. On the other hand, it has been hard, some days very hard. So I do what many people do, I escape into my dreams sometimes. Maybe I see my dreams as being a little bit more doable than most though (outside of my moving to Mars dream, that’s really unlikely.) I guess I understand having to do stuff in life, and I support it, but maybe those dreams I have, the dreams you have, maybe I just see, believe, they can be lived, if we want to live them. Saying that makes me want to leave next week, but I’ve got a few more good years, then I’ll be gone, and why not? I always wonder, why not live your dreams? Nothing stops us but us, and a strong enough desire to fulfill the dream.


Flight and Falling

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The pics have nothing to do with the words. I don’t care. The pics are from Ameba’s current piece, “On the Edge” at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

I have no idea any more. I’ve totally lost any concept of if I’m flying or if I’m falling, as far as I can tell, there is no difference between the two. I’m overwhelmed on almost every side of life. I can’t handle it, and I love it. The contradictions in my life are constant, and thorough. I’m totally lost, and I just can’t stop myself from continuing to go, further and further. Reality is becoming a distant memory, unless where I’m at right now is reality, which I find hard to believe, but how would I know?

I increasingly see my life in terms of “Apocalypse Now”. It’s my all time favorite movie. It describes my life. Surreality every where, all sides. And I just keep getting pulled up river, pulled by some force I don’t understand. I don’t know who I am, both in terms of which character I would most resemble (I can make arguments for the Chief, Lance, and the photojournalist, but I want to be Kurtz.) and I just don’t know if I know who I am anymore. I’ve chosen to let go, or remake so many parts of me in the last year, it’s amazing, I’m happier, I’m a better person, a better human, but I’m not sure who I am, or where I am. This isn’t a bad thing, if anything, it’s a good thing. I’m just totally lost on the river. Whatever it is, it works, but it’s all such a swirl.








It’s all so Zen

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I’m going to start with some tangents then get to the point, as much as I ever have one, a few paragraphs on. The imagery is from polar bearing, the Chinese New Year’s Parade, a Snow Skate event (think SSX Tricky, and the only story assigned by the office, for you PJs), Information Superhighway’s performance, and The Afterlife’s performance. All the photos are from Friday night through Sunday night, and if still got leftovers for future posts. Ha!

There is just way too much to talk about from the past few days. Busy, busy beyond all recognition. Last night I got to turn the TV on for the evening news, tonight I watched my taped episode of Coupling (btw-I started watching this program a few months back, and it just kicks ass. Hilarious. Plus that whacky British humor kick. It’s on PBS.) That hour of TV has been all my free time for the last 5 days, and I hope it never ends.

It’s been nothing but edit, shoot, drive and talk about imagery with amazing photogs. Life is nothing short of grand. (I should note here, that I feel a little bad saying that as numerous of my friends have had really bad things happen to them this last week. And while I may be having a great week, that they are all in my thoughts and heart. If any of you need a hand, and I’ve said this to many of you already, let me know, I’m here and it would be my honor to make your life a little better.) Thursday a friend went out of her way to set-up some free tickets to a show for me. Totally unasked for, so kind, and wow, talk about setting a great tone for the weekend.

Friday after hanging with some friends, and running into a cool new friend totally at random, I got to see my favorite singer, the incredible Leslie Beukelman. (And if you’re cool, and I know you are, you want to see Leslie perform with my favorite tap dancers, Chicago Tap Theatre, in what will surely be an awesome performance, Mixology. Buy tickets now, it sells out, every show last year. Guys, you will impress your gals, with your class and taste, trust me.)

Saturday I got go Polar Bearing (I will go into depth on this in a bit, it’s the zen of it all.) And that night hang with some of Chicago’s, and the country’s premiere photographers. (Don’t believe me? Go here. Some of the presenters, showing the best in unused political photography coming out of the primaries. It makes me sad for newspapers that this doesn’t get used, but I’m not surprised either.)

Sunday was the Chinese New Year’s Parade, which was just all kinds of cold. Sunday night (Fri and Sun were both at Silvie’s strangely enough and Sat was at a house two blocks away, weird) I got to see one of my favorite theater groups turn band, The Afterlife. Whacky fun. I like theater people, I tend to get them, usually because they’re insane, so we have something in common. Plus I got to finally meet a friend (this whole Facebook/MySpace/Blog (FMB) world is weird. People I’ve never met know me, and I know them. Well at least this weekend I got to meet both of my FMB friends who I had never actually met.) who I’ve been having some pretty kickass conversations with.

Damn, I mean, damn, can life be better? Oh yeah, to top it off, I was on fire. I was like a drunken teenager in a car on a Saturday night in nowhere Texas with a baseball bat and nothing but mailboxes in front of him. Just hitting everything, everywhere. Not perfect, but solid hits all around.

Alright, too the much delayed point……Zen.

My mid-day Saturday shoot, or one of them was the Lakeview Polar Bear Club’s 7th Annual Celebration of Shrinkage. For those who don’t know, Polar Bearing is basically jumping in a cold, or in this case, literally freezing, lake, for…fun? I’ve wanted to do this for years and because of recent acquasitions by our company, was able to self-assign it for work. All the time I had for prep work basically consisted of calling Brian and getting some tips; sandals so submerged ice cuts your feet less often, a nice robe so you can quickly disrobe and re-robe, things like that.

I knew there were going to be a multitude of technical issues going in. Not that cameras don’t like either the cold or water. Who would’ve thunk it? Plus an event I have a minimal understanding of and have to cover with a minimum of equipment, again, due to the whole “water problem”. I made sure my camera was set-up before hand to be as quick and responsive as possible, basically, all manual. As old Leica ads used to say, “A camera that doesn’t get in the way of taking the picture.” Plus it was going to be quick, maybe a minute, maybe less I had been warned and the people I really wanted, the newbies screaming, probably meant a 15 second window for what I needed. This was going to come down to one, maybe two chances and that was it. Plus there were going to be a host of safety issues, as I would be in literally freezing water. Dead photographers don’t make good photos, basic rule. Basically I knew it would be great. I love intensity. It’s passionate. Yeah, baby.

So I get changed, btw-you know you’re in trouble when you are taking your clothes off on a beach, in the snow, and when you pull your long underwear off, and you have swim trunks underneath, so I get changed, get some “before” shots. Whatever. I end up standing around for a few minutes in my hat, sandals and swim trunks. You’d think this would be really damn cold, it was in the mid-20s after all, but I really wasn’t. This was kind of the theme for the day.

I set-up to be able to enter the water about 5 seconds ahead of the pack. I wanted to be able to get people if it was shocking right as they entered the water, and as I wasn’t wearing a wet suit, it needed to be as little lead time as I could get away with. Safety was a constant in this plan. I entered the water well everyone else was still about 30 feet away, so the first few seconds I got to be in the water without having to, being able to focus on shooting. This is, actually, a bad thing. See I got to feel my feet lose feeling, in what I would estimate to have been 1 to 2 seconds. But once everyone else started hitting the water, it was totally different.


When I shoot, not always, but when I’m there, when I’m in the zone, I’m there, totally in the moment, totally aware of my surrondings, totally aware of what is occurring and totally focused on what I’m doing, on the image I’m making. I think, but more than that, I react, I follow instinct and training, years of training. It’s a hard to describe combination of being in the scene, feeling the scene and floating above it all. I believe as a journalist I have to report what is there, but to capture the emotion, I have to be open to the emotion, and sometimes, feeling the emotion. I have to let that feeling, in this case, damn cold, into me, but flow through me. It has to flow through because well I need to feel it to use it to guide my imagery, my creation process, I can’t get overwhelmed by it. Sometimes I do get overwhelmed by it, and that’s hard on many levels for me, but as much as possible I need to not let it stop me from doing what I need to do.

So once all the participants got in the water it was all shooting. Turn here, look for this shot, turn there, try to get that shot. I don’t remember my legs being cold, but they could’ve just been numb at that point. And while I remember my feet being cold initially, there is something shocking I don’t remember. I didn’t go that far out, that deep, but I got above my waist in the water, I know this because my trunks were soaked when I got out of the water. Not to be blunt, and while the ladies will understand this, the men will truly get this, I don’t remember the boys hitting the water. Maybe they went numb to quick, whatever, but this is one of those moments you expect to hit you, like that drunk teenager earlier, except this time I’d be, or my boys more accurately, would be the mailbox. As a guy, any water below a nice warm bath tub, or a jacuzzi, ahhh jacuzzi, is a memorable experience and not in a good way typically. This one, which may have been the worst ever for me, I didn’t even notice. I was too focused on getting my shots, on what was around me.

It just amazes me how focused the mind can be, how it can allow all the necessary information in and discard everything else, regardless of how…profound, it may be. I ended up being in the water for about a minute and seven seconds (I’m taking that time from the time stamps on the images.) I left, I think I left, when I felt that I was starting to enter a time frame where safety issues might start to appear. Plus most everyone had come in and gotten out, so my shots had moved to people getting dressed and such and were no longer in the water. I didn’t think about it much, I just knew that’s where I needed to be, and moved to be there.

I spent the next 30 minutes, maybe more, in my wet trunks, my sandals, with wool socks on now to keep my feet warm (if my feet are warm, I’m warm), my winter hat, and my awesome royal blue heavy cotton robe. I wasn’t cold at all. I shot people getting warm, drinking hot chocolate, doing all the “after” things you would expect. Plus I ran into one our freelance photographers and we chatted for about 10, 15 minutes. The photo community is small, it’s always good to get to know people, and help them when you can, because someday, you’ll probably need it in return.

But my favorite point in shooting, the experience I live most for, is not when I see that final image. It’s for the moment shutter is open, it’s when everything is around me, I know what’s happening on all sides, and the shutter is open, making that image. For that split second an exposure is being made. That is my moment in life. That is the moment I live for. Not all photography is like that, a village council meeting? Who cares, it’s got to be done, but I’m not into it. Those intense, beautiful instants, when it’s all about feeling, instinct, passion, and the moment, that beautiful moment, is like nothing else. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to that Zen mediation feeling of being totally empty, without thought. Luckily for me, I get it regularly, or fairly regularly, and nothing can replace it.

Can life get better? And if so, can my heart handle it?


Damn that guy in the background

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Why? Why? Why?

It’s so close to what I previsualized for the event, so close to what I wanted, now I have to figure out how to crop it to make the guy in back less intrusive.

Damn it, damn it, damn it, so damn close.

(If you have any crop advice, feel free to let me know, I’ve got 24 hours.)


Cup: Half Empty or Half Full?

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It’s always an interesting question. I can positively, and definitely say, I see it both ways. (And in the political spirit of the season) I wholeheartedly admit to flip-flopping, flip-flopping like a pack of teenage girls on the beach, on this issue. One day one way, one day another. So, what I say, here, now, is true for today, tomorrow, we’ll see….

So recently my “daytime” employer, thee who provides me health insurance, bought several new newspapers (new for us.) We went from having 6 weekly papers to 9. The 3 additions are also a significant hike away. This will most severely effect the circulation staff and the photo staff, in my estimation, because we’re the people that have to travel there. No way around it for us. We have to be on scene, we can’t work via phone calls and email.

Of course, my first response is panic. Change causes fear in many people, me included. I believe this is natural, and good. Change is symbolic of food or shelter being at risk, and people want to live. I want to live. I want to live my happy, shiny little life. That has been largely my response, and is going to continue to be part of my response till I see how this all works out.

My belief is that photo doesn’t have the resources to do the job properly. The company’s position is that they’ve added the resources they can, and that will do the job, and otherwise we’ll find a way. (Hmmm…the staff wants more, the management wants to give less than what the staff “needs”…this song sounds familiar, like the song sung at every company everywhere, except maybe Google. I don’t want to work at Google, or own Google, I want to be Google. Someday.) Where it all lands? Who knows? Give it a few weeks to a few months.

To date, what I’ve been seeing is the company believing I should work 70-hour weeks, and that all the photos should just magically get done, somehow. I like to think of it as the “Photo-Fairy”(picture me in a tutu with a wand in one hand with a magically light weight pro-body and lens combo on the end, just taping people and getting photos and floating over traffic.) Now, my publisher expects a lot out of the photo staff, but he’s not inhuman. The problem is, he doesn’t understand photo. He’s a writer, writers never get photo. They’ve never done it, don’t get what’s involved except in rare instances. Alas, my boss (photo editor, PE) and I aren’t good at communicating our workload to the office. We’re always on the road, I only go in when I have to and call when I have something to talk about. They know as little as I show them.

The solution? Better communication, better self-management. I need to realize my days are going to be full. Every day. Previously some days were full, some over-full, some downright slow. As a colleague (Strazzante) once said, (I’m paraphrasing as I don’t remember exactly, but it’s a great sentiment) “I average 40-hours a week, but I don’t work 40-hours any one week.” I’ve had weeks hit 70 hours in 5 days in the past. I never minded that much, as much as I get kind of pissy and bitchy those weeks. Why? Because some point down the road, I’d have a 30-hour week or less, and maybe a few of them. Over a year, I’m guessing I averaged 45, maybe 50 hours a week. I can live with that.

Now those slow weeks are gone. This means, no more sprints, but a constant marathon. I have to work 50 hours a week, but not more, not more because I won’t have the slow week to walk after the sprint. It’s a constant jog. The office won’t be able to see how much I work, they don’t do my job, they don’t know. I have to set this pace, and they have to respect it. That’s all they have to do, is respect the limits I set and listen to what I’m telling them. Hopefully they can accomplish this. I don’t usually give them credit for this, but this is often unfair, as I’m bad at communicating the limits to them, and why.

So hopefully by managing myself better, I can keep the potential bad of this growth at bay. But the good? That had been simmering in my head, but really hit today, and it involves, of all words, bhangra. Yes, bhangra.

See, over the summer, I went to one of the Millennium Park Dance Festival events of band that was recommended to me, Funkadesi. (FYI – they are absolutely awesome.) I learned how to bhangra dance at this event. Good times. Need to do that more. Apparently bhangra is a from of traditionally Indian dancing, I learned this at that point. I need to do more of it, just an FYI.

So today, I’m driving down Devon, in one of our new neighborhoods (I have no idea what neighborhood mind you), and I realize I’m in a heavily Indian neighborhood. “Hmmm…”(he says in his head) “wonder if I can find some bhangra to shoot for these new papers.” That sounds like fun.

Then it hit me. Duh! Okay, we now have some freelance budget, so if I’m booked, it’s not as bad. If I limit myself to the jog, and don’t get burned out, I can take the chance to explore these new neighborhoods, which I’ve been rather interested in since this acquisition was first announced. If I do some research, learn what’s going on, where, and find the visually interesting ideas, as long as I stay ahead of the writers (which is like hurtling a cantalope, not much more than walking) I can save them the effort of finding photo spreads and drop-ins, and create my own. Writers are inherently lazy people (I really rather like writers, and by writer I mean reporter, not real writers, oh yeah, bring it on, and respect them, really, I do, they just don’t plan well, as a group. There are some wonderful, marvelous exceptions. Yeah, and photographers are pre-Madonnas, we are, which is one of the common complaints. That and all women think we’re hot. We are. Just suck it up writers, Photographer equals sexy, don’t be jealous. Don’t be hating.)…where was I? Oh yeah, writers are always behind on their photo requests and don’t like doing them. So if I can find ideas for those imagery needs first, they’ll be happy not having to do that work, and not get in my life with they’re non-photogenic ideas. (I kid you not, “They’re doing this old time radio broadcast. This should be really cool and interesting, let’s get 5 images out of this!” What about “radio” says “visual”? People standing by a mic, one prop person.) This is a good thing. I get to photograph more photogenic subjects and events, and do more of what I want.

I’m a believer in chaos. Chaos is good, just follow me here for a second. In chaos, the people who usually come out the other side in the best condition are those who are best trained, most intelligent, most adaptable, best prepared, and generally, strongest (in which ever form the word “strong” need take.) I’ve been through chaotic times with other companies in the past, I’ve done well, quite well. I believe, if I take control of my situation, I can come out the other side, doing more of what I want, less of the reporter requested schmuck grip and grin, ribbon cutting crap. Maybe I can even book all my Friday and Saturday nights October through March and not ever shoot basketball again. Okay, that might be too much to ask.

I do have about 20% of the city of Chicago to work with. I might, just might, be able to find a way to fill 30, maybe 40 hours a week, with what I want. Okay, that might be high, but you never know.

I’m not sure how true this all is. I’m not sure that I’m up to the challenge. I’m not even totally convinced the opportunity is really there. But maybe it is. Just maybe.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow the world be crashing down again. Oh well. (I’m smirking here.)


Garth Algar: "We fear change."

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Proof I’m getting old, experience has taught me to fear change.

So today my bosses bought three more newspapers, taking the company from 6 weeklies to 9. I’m not sure what this means for me. I worry that the photo end of things wasn’t well thought out, or thought out at all and it will mean being overworked, overloaded, and stressed out for a while.

I’m already way behind because I’ve got so much on my plate between work, my freelance work, and my pro-bono work. This could also mean more photo staff, less sports, please god less sports, and covering more interesting stories. I’m just not sure yet.

We will see what this does to me, for me in the coming weeks and months.


An Ode to Failure

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Okay, “Ode” is a little overblown, and failure is only in my mind probably. With those stipulations….

(This all revolves around the image at left of the dancer “flying”.)

I can’t find the quote unfortunately, even after much looking, but some well known photographer once made a comment about how it was better to have an interesting failure for an image, or when making an image, than a predictable success. Basically, screw-up, but take something cool away from your screw-up.

So, in this case, I ended up in theater much larger than I had been expecting to photograph Aloft Aerial Dance. (I’d love to desribe what they do, but I don’t know how. It’s all up high. It’s very cool to see. Very pretty, but that statement fails in terms of depth. Anyhow, see some aerial dance if you get a chance. Good stuff.) Back to photography…Actually not a theater but a church, no pews, (whew) but comfy seating, with 2 balconies, for 8000 (at least that’s what I think he said, at least 4000 otherwise.)

Fine, my life is about the unexpected, I like that. I worked with what I had, shot what I could, how I could, tried to make it work. Now, the other problem here, is that with a stage for a room that size, I really don’t have the glass I’d want for it. Again, make it work.

The bigger problem is I didn’t know the performance, I had never seen it before. I didn’t know where to be when, what was coming. See, I don’t care what has just happened unless it illuminates what is going to happen. The past is gone. I can’t make a photo of it. I need to know what is next so I can make a photo of that. With a stage that large, that means having to move, maybe 50 yards or more to get into position. This means planning, which I couldn’t do. Nature of the beast in this case. C’est la vie. I’m better prepared for next year.

So, take some chances and find a way to make it work. This is what I get paid for after all (though this was actually another of my happily pro-bono jobs. They are so much better.) I’m not a 100% on the “flying” photo, not even close. Given the choice, I want face, I always want face, this has been drilled into me for years, to my detriment. No face, I just don’t normally plan for someone to fly 30, maybe 40 feet over the audience. My bad. So, shoot from behind, the focus is a little off (ankles are in focus, the rear foot is just a hair out, we’re talking maybe a few hundredths of a second to traverse that distance, but I still want the rear foot in focus.)

The exposure is okay, background generally works. As a failure, I like it. It has some interesting ideas. I want to re-crop it to give a little more on the bottom now that I’ve had a day with it. I can play with the idea again in the future, better.

Maybe that’s what I like about failures though, “better in the future”. Success closes off the future to some degree. Been there, done that, next. I like that I can re-examine, learn and improve. Yeah, anyone can do that all the time, but I like having a new idea to play with to improve. It’s like having a new toy.

Hence, an interesting failure it is, better than the safe “successes”.


What You Wish For

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I have a lovely little apartment. Well, I have a little apartment that I have lived in for about a decade now and has to deal with the destruction that is my life.

Anyhow…the floor of my apartment isn’t well insulated from the basement. So my floor is often a little cold, not a lot, but just a little, just enough that I’m a little cold much of the time. My wool socks get plenty of use. Hmmm…I see a trip to Campmor.com when I’m done with this post. So for the last few weeks, I keep thinking, “I just want to be warm, I just want to be warm.”

I should have termed that better. “I just want to be warm in my living room.” I was not planning on being in a 110-140 degree heat (amazing how much the temperature can change in a few feet) with a 100% or so humidity and 5-10 naked men. Ahh…bathhouses, such fun.

So a couple of problems here. It’s cold outside, it’s hot inside. I’m mostly outside, and dressed for such. This means I’m uncomfortable inside, at least when inside is 110 and up. I could wear a towel for the shoot, but I have equipment that must be kept on me, flashes, lens cleaning clothes, etc, so that means I keep the pants. Heavy pants and no shirt just looks silly, plus, I don’t really have time to change for the shoot as, is always the case it seems, this is very last minute and I haven’t had the time to devote to this shoot that it needs.

That raises another problem. When shooting swimming one of the recurring problems is that when you go into an 80 degree room from the cold, water condenses on everything, especially the glass. This means you can’t see, or shoot, squat for 10 minutes in some cases. In this case, it means the glass fogs up after 3 seconds, for the first 30 minutes. Wipe with lens cloth, shoot really quick, wipe, repeat ad infinitum.

Add to this, everything has to be shot from low, you know, like I’m looking up towels, because at a normal sitting height, it’s about a 100-110 degrees. At the same height as standing on a chair, it’s about 40 degrees warmer. Hmmm…things I forgot about bathhouses. (yeah, numbers change due to guessing and the fish being thissss big.)

Oh yeah, it was dark too, not the Leslie like black hole dark, but definitely dark. For the photographers amongst us, f2.8, iso 3200, 1/4 of a second. Fun.

It is an environment with a lot of potential, if I can create the time to spend there, and do it right. And if nothing else, the guys were plenty nice, understanding and accommodating of what I needed to do.

Suffice it to say, I was warm, plenty warm. Wasn’t quite the plan otherwise. It’s sort of like I have my own personal Genie, with that classic Genie sense of humor, and not in that “I Dream of Jeannie” kind of way. Bummer on that last part.


I don’t know

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I’ve given up on the big things, the big changes, the major milestones of life, changing the world. It’s been one of those frustrating weeks. But I really love those little things, those little steps, and maybe calling them little is insulting, inaccurate, and it’s not what I mean, but I think I’ll get to the idea. But those are the worthwhile things in life.

Photographed Giuliani, why are elections on, again? Wasn’t it just last week when the last one ended? Fine, show up to the pen. I hate press pens. Talk about a sure fire way to get the same shot as everyone else. Basically they round up all the photographers and let them shoot from one of two, three, maybe four positions. I think it’s the press pens that make sure photographers all have the same difficult, independent, and at least slightly uncooperative streak. The advance team’s job is to get the image that they want to portray, portrayed. Fine. That’s not my job. I’m not their PR department. They want me to be?, I’ll quote them the rate.

I at least got one shoot that AP, Reuters and whoever else the other 7 photographers were working for don’t have, except maybe the Time guy. That makes me happy, or at least un-surly. Always be nice to the people on the ground level, the people who greet at the door, the maintenance person, they know what’s happening and where to go most of the time and get you around. Also, and sometimes I do this, and sometimes I hate it, it’s rude; don’t ask, just do, and take the slap on the wrist. I was where I wasn’t supposed to be, and that got me a different shot. “Please go back to one of designated shooting areas sir.” Right. He was doing his job, and was actually quite nice later. I just don’t do well with rules. The photo probably won’t get used, but whatever, made me happy. Now, do I go with the smile or the tense look?

I happily left that event, if you’ve never listened to a politician speak to a crowd, do, it will make all those times your spouse asks you pick up after yourself sound so wonderful and interesting.

The rest of my evening was spent shooting Chicago Tap Theatre. (Howdy ladies and gents. FYI – to everyone else, show this weekend, at UIC, kid friendly. Go.) You know what, helping them out, ain’t going to change much of anything in this world. But damn, it’s nice to be appreciated. (Take notes bosses everywhere.) If nothing more than a “Thank You” in the lobby. I ain’t going to change public opinion on who to vote for, or make a voter more informed, probably ever, for anyone. But you know what, I made one person a little happier. This is, for better or worse, the goal of each day of my life currently. I want to make someone a little happier, or at least a little better feeling.

Sure I want to inform and educate, create interest about the world and the people in it in the people who read our papers. Tell you what, as far as I can tell, next to no one cares about the photos in our papers. God knows, nobody I works with cares an iota. Endlessly frustrating. Unfortunately I care about what I do, and at least want to do it well. If they screw it all to hell on the back end, not my problem.

On Sunday I got to spend some time photographing CTT, just for me. Just playing. Every once and a while, we all need to just let go, and play, for ourselves. What CTT needed was probably covered. I wanted to spend some time making me happy. Playing for me. If my playing helps them, great, if not, sorry about the intrusion. I just hadn’t been happy for the last few productions with the images I had been getting. Some of that was technical issues beyond anyone’s control, if the lights don’t work and I can’t get any of Jesse’s sweet love with light, what can be done? (He really needs to get a website, or something I can link too. I really want to see if I can get him in the top results for “sweet love”. I love Google bombing. Also, if you think “Sweet Love” is the wrong term, look at the lighting for a minute in what I’ve posted of CTT recently. Every step has to be accounted for to get those images. Yeah, I have to do my job well, but even more so the dancers, the lighting designer Jesse Klug, choreographers, everyone. I can only capture what is already there.) Anyhow, I was tired of problems, and needed to loosen back up, which usually means experiment, experiment, and experiment. Some loses, some ties, I’ll take that. I feel better about where I’m at with photographing dance, even if it’s not the norm stuff that came out of that shoot.

Today though, today was quite good, if still frustrating. (I think I’m just personally frustrated at the moment, hence I’m frustrated by everything. No decent reason, just life. I even met a few nice people this weekend. Just too much in my head about things it has no right to dig into. As with all feelings, it shall pass.) Took photos for some magazine cover. The photos are fine. There is at least one nice usable image, probably more. In a year or so when they pull the images up for use though, the ad department is going to cry and scream. Not for reasons of execution, but for reasons of concept. Oh well, not my problem, not my concept. They don’t ask me, I don’t care. For me, Olivia, she was happy. Olivia is a young girl playing Clare in a local Nutcracker production. She liked the photos of her, she had fun. The office can be happy, they can be sad, they can be mad, they can be glad, me? I won’t rhyme or mind anymore. Olivia was happy. The photo is cheesy, sure, but whatever. Olivia is happy.

And even better, I got an email from Donna, the head of the science fair I judged last week. (Was that last week? I’m turning into one of those old men who doesn’t see the days/weeks/months go by anymore. I’m also becoming a curmudgeon, but I’m proud of that one.) Romario, the first place winner, according to Donna, “almost had a heartache with joy” when he saw a copy of the article in the paper. (Hmm…didn’t think it got published, maybe I should look at the papers sometimes. Bad Josh.) He got copies for his family and they’re going to read the article in class tomorrow. (Umm…Donna? Didn’t you notice I write horribly? Come on Tim, tell me you edited the story well. I feel like the pressure is on now. People are actually going to read what I write? Strangers? I’m going to have nightmares tonight. Well, at least the kids will know that anybody can be a journalist.)

It’s making Romario happy, hopefully proud, that makes me happy. It’s making Olivia happy that makes me smile. Maybe it’s not asking enough of myself. Maybe it’s realizing my limits. Maybe it’s a failure to see a larger picture. I don’t know. I made two kids happy today. That’s all I want anymore, or at least today.


Random Little Thought

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I’m not sure what to do with this image. It’s close, but I don’t know if it’s a hit. I like the blur, the color, the person in the background I’d rather be gone, but I can live with them, and I’ll bring them down a bit given some more time in post. But it just doesn’t come totally together, not yet, but it’s close, it’s got the pieces. Just bugs me. I’m not sure what to do, or if anything can be done. It’s one of those hits to right field that’s going to die in the corner and be a triple, but lands just foul, not even by inches. Damn.


I So Belong in Journalism

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I suggested that I write a story about the Mitchell Elementary School Science Fair. This was also so I could lock the time into my schedule and be a judge, because on my list of “Dreams I’ve had since I was twelve” being a science fair judge was still not checked off.

So yesterday I went and did the judging. I grinned the whole way home. A grin the size of Jersey.

All I had to do was write the story.

Now, I started this blog, and continue this blog to help me develop a better writing style, something more, “Me”. And I think it’s helping in that goal. I think I also need to write more story style bits now.

Around 9pm or so I get started. I stall, I procasitnate, I watch a Star Trek Voyager, I watch Star Trek Deep Space Nine, I decide not to watch a movie, because that would be gratitious, I wander around the house looking at the photos on my walls instead having imagenary conversations, check Facebook about 30 times. About 3am I decide I need to sleep. I’ve transcribed some quotes from my tape recorder by this point, and written two sentences. The piece needs to be out around 8 or 9am. Set my alarm clock for 5:30am. In my world 2 hours of sleep is perfectly acceptable, and depressingly normal.

Get up at 6am. Check Facebook, you know, for all the stuff my 10 friends might have done between 3 and 6am. Read the newspaper, online of course. Check Facebook again, for all the things my 10 friends might have done between 6 and 7am. I’ve worked on writing the article at this point, a little here, a little there, but I can’t find the flow, the groove. Somewhere around 7:30, maybe 7:45am, I find the groove, write the whole thing in about 30 minutes. Edit the photos, and done. It’s not great, but not horrible, and hopefully my editor will bring it up to good.

Come on Tim, I’m counting on you.

Massive procrastination is really required to work in journalism. It always gets done, just barely.


Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose

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I tend to like the people I work with, I tend to really like the people who I work for/interact with, I tend to wholly and thoroughly disagree with my managers.

In an old example, when I taught, I liked my fellow instructors, they were always helpful and kind. I thought my students were great, even the problematic ones. They were generally nice, often inquisitive, creative, energetic, everything you could ask for. No they weren’t all perfect, none of them were, but they learned, and that was enjoyable to watch and they treated me and each other kindly and respectfully. The administration, well, they were wonderful at being bureaucrats, and I barely dealt with them, but any time it came to getting anything accomplished or done, I just stayed away because it was too annoying for me to deal with for pittance of a salary, and with my job title and experience I wouldn’t have been any help anyway.

In my current example, my co-workers, well occasionally problematic (reporters have issues with getting anything done in a timely manner or realizing that anyone else in the world needs time to plan) they are generally nice people. My management, ugh, they are nice people as people, but certain bits of reality don’t seem to compute to them. They recently bought the latest version of Photoshop for the entire office. This amounts to a hefty chunk of change. They forgot, yep forgot, to get copies for the photographers. Really, why do the photographers need Photoshop? And now the art director, who may or may not have done the forgetting in the first place, is trying to get our copies budgeted for, but it’s not going rapidly, or much at all. Again, photographers, Photoshop, why? Okay, whatever, except that they’ve actually never provided the photographers with Photoshop. We just happened to have it when we started to so why upgrade us along with the rest of the staff? This isn’t a first time for this. It’s a bit….insulting.

On the other hand, I have subjects that request me, me specifically to photograph them and their home because they like my work so much. Nice warm fuzzy feeling there. And I took photos today of two lovely and nice women who were generally happy to have their photos taken. Great. Plus, when we were done taking photos of them with their brownies from an 1890s recipe, they had a wrapped tin of them ready for me. While technically, technically, I shouldn’t have accepted them, that whole receiving payment from subjects thing and journalistic detachment, in this case I didn’t think it would do any harm and I didn’t want to insult them, so I accepted their brownies. It’s nice to be so appreciated. (FYI – the photo isn’t of the brownies I received, as it’s been almost two hours so mine are almost gone. If you ever need your dessert guarded, I’m here for you. My stomach is the Fort Knox of the dessert community.)


Sad Realizations

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On the A Photo A Day blog, they linked to a Time magazine chart that lists percentage of people “very happy” in their jobs. Photographers, 20.8%; Correctional institution officers, 26%; Mail carriers (postal service), 34.5%.

More people working in prisons are happier in their jobs than photographers. That’s depressing.

Though to be fair, I’d be in the “happy” category and not the “very happy” category.

I’d also take the study with a grain of salt. As was said in one of my college classes, “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”


Working Through It

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We all have those dull, dull, dull, repetitive tasks that must be done. Welcome to basketball season.

I was never much of a fan of the sport. I’m more of a soccer or hockey kind of guy, though I do love football (The Packers are going all the way!) But I have to photograph a lot of high school basketball and basketball related stories, so I do.

My current working theory is that 95% of everything in life is dull, repetitive, and generally annoying stuff that must be done because, because whatever, it just must be done. I would love to never have to shower again, just always be clean. I would love to never eat again, just always be full. Don’t get me wrong , sleep is awesome, but I would love to be able to choose to sleep, once a month for a few hours would be great, but I must sleep nightly, even if I have better things to do. I would absolutely love to never drive anywhere again, but I must. And this is all fine, this 95% boredom, because that other 5%, that 5% is….it’s amazing, it’s that blank that is asked to be filled in on the questionnaire to finish the sentence, it’s not just the grand taste of the watermelon, but it’s also the spitting of the seeds. (I don’t believe in seedless watermelons, just wrong, on a moral, spiritual level. It goes against the universe to not be able to spit watermelon seeds.)

But that 5%, that time spent just spitting watermelon seeds, it makes all the grits, oatmeal, and fruitcakes worthwhile. Right now, I just don’t have any seeds to spit, and this always frustrates me. I know I got some coming in the future. I’ve got some plans on where “Summer Love” is headed, and I’m excited, stoked, just filled with anticipation, I long to see where she can go, I think I know, but she has such beauty, and so much potential.

Anyhow….I’ve also got a new camera on the way, which will be a chance to explore some real whacky surrealistically stylized work. (I was thinking about buying an infrared camera, or possibly an IR and UV, then one came up for sale used that was a much higher quality at the price of the ones I had been looking into. The fates wanted me to have another camera. Though to be honest, I’ve long since lost count, I do know it will be my eighth working digital camera that I have right now. IR is sexy. What I’m going to use it for is still something of a mystery though.)

I’ve got pots on top of the stove, but nothing boiling right now. At least I got pots on the stove, heating up. And until they boil, I wait. I hate waiting.

In the meantime I think I’m going to see if I can shoot basketball in a way that makes it look like high fashion. It will take me a while to figure out the lighting, but hell, what else do I have to do?