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Category: About Photography (page 2 of 4)

Inspiration, The Impending Summer, and Change.

Here I am on the tail end of some major life changes and I feel like something is missing. I’m settled in my new apartment, my finances have leveled out after the move, I’ve been working regularly, and playing a lot. The transition into this new phase is basically over and I’m starting to feel a little antsy about it. Not antsy about the transition, but antsy about what’s next. That familiar tightness in the chest is back, that feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not creating enough, that I’m wasting such valuable time as I’ll never have again. Hedonism has become dull, a chore, a worn out play-thing destined for the bottom of the toy chest. All the playing is a nice distraction from life when I’m stressed and stupid and trying to avoid my feelings (as I’ve been doing since the beginning of February), but when I’m not really avoiding anything all the hedonism does is inspire feelings of guilt and shame. Loss? I don’t know. Maybe that’s too strong a word. It makes me feel bad and dumb.

After cranking out the piece for Hunter earlier this year and my subsequent rejection, there has been this tiny little whisper in my brain chanting its disheartening mantra of “Fuck it,” which is a terrible attitude to seeping through your subconscious. Astute Black Laserites will notice that I’ve posted nary a single photo all year. It’s May. You’ll also notice that I’ve not posted any other writing besides the Hunter piece. And that I’ve made ZERO progress on the three music videos I’ve assigned myself for this year. Pathetic. This year’s theme is flailing around, begging for attention, and I can’t seem to muster it. What is my deal? I’m trading my work time for play time as a way to rebound, but it’s not having the affect it should. Quite the opposite, I think.

With this warm weather anxiety firmly gripping my chest, I’ve been thinking of a few simple ways to change things up, to put my brain into a different place. Let’s explore, shall we?

  • Buy a bicycle – I really want one. I think it would be nice to have one to ride around on in the summer time. On the other hand, it’s been 15 years since I’ve ridden a bicycle regularly and riding one around NY scares me more than a little. It’s something I need to overcome.
  • Lose a little weight – Nothing drastic. Just a little. I could stand a little definition. It will help me feel better, no doubt. I don’t really know how to do this, but maybe the bike will help.
  • Read more – This is another weird thing. I think I’ve read maybe 2 or 3 books this year? Again, it’s May. That is a surprisingly low number for me. I like reading a lot. It makes my brain function better and helps me write.
  • Work less – I’ve been working nonstop since October and I’m ready not to work for a little. I can afford it. Thankfully, most of June and parts of July and August I’ll not be working. Super.
  • Pick up the guitar again – It’s been a million years since I owned and played a guitar regularly. I’d like to get one again and flex that part of my brain so long dormant.

All in all, not an insurmountable list. With any measure of diligence I should be able to accomplish these things and they will open the flood gates of my brain so that I might be able to get some damned work done when I’m not working. What is this crazy work compulsion I feel about? Weird. Anyway, I’d like to work more.

And lest this come off as some whiny bitch and moan session (it’s not intended to be), here’s something I find inspirational.

An Analysis of 2009 – The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories.

Now that February is clipping along rapidly, my application to Hunter is finished and submitted, and I have had a moment to think about the results of last year’s theme, the time has arrived to discuss 2009 – The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. I know that you were all super excited for yet another text-heavy Black Laser posting in which I muse about things that matter to me but probably don’t matter to you. Isn’t the internet wonderful?

In case you missed it, here is my original statement of intent for 2009.

2009 was wildly successful for my photo work. Not only did I hit 5017 out of 5000 photos, but I really do think that my photos got noticeably better over the course of the year. I’ve throw together a gallery of some of my favorites from the last year. There’s no rhyme or reason for the selections; I just went through 2009 and picked a bunch I liked. They are arranged in chronological order, oldest first.

[flickrset id=”72157623234441883″ thumbnail=”square” overlay=”true” size=”large”]

I took a lot of good photos and a handful of great ones. I feel much more confident with my tools than I did before. I learned and experimented and limited myself. Tremendous success. We’ll see how many photos I take this year. I’ve hardly touched my camera since the year began because I was working so hard on my graduate school application, but that will soon change. Making photos is fun and rewarding, even if I don’t make a damned dollar doing it.

Here are all the galleries I’ve posted on this site. Anything tagged “Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories” is, obviously, part of this theme.

The results of my writing last year are much less clear. In one quantitative manner, it was only a partial success with only 38 of 50 short stories being written. Even once I lowered my goals in terms of word count, I was unable to get as much done as I had strived for. There is no excuse really. I missed the mark and that’s it. It’s disappointing too, because once I really got down to it, I was able to crank out piece after piece. Between the middle of November and the end of the year I wrote 36 of my 38 short stories. If you do the math, that works out to an average of 6 stories a week for 6 weeks. Not bad at all.

And that’s the rub. More importantly than whether or not I met the quota I set for myself in December of 2008, in terms of my skills as a writer, I think that 2009 was a complete success. Writing as often and as much as I did undoubtedly helped my writing. “Duh,” you say, but it’s true. I believe that whipping through those short stories made me a stronger writer. It’s one thing to know that practice makes you better at things, but it’s entirely different to have experienced it. I am sure that the writing I did last year contributed directly to the quality of my creative submission to Hunter this year, which is quite clearly superior to the work I submitted last year. And that is awesome.

I’m still not that great with writing about myself, though.

Check out all posts with the tag “Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories” to see the work I did.

This year I’ve already written 1 of my assigned 12 Finished Short Stories. I’ve not yet done any real work on the music videos, but it is only February and there is time. I hope to continue the roll I started in November when I decided that all the worrying I was doing about the quality of my work was preventing me from doing any at all (stupid). I’ve got more writing to do and photos to make. It feels great to make something out of nothing, and I hope all you lovely readers of my tiny speck on the face of the Interwebs will continue to read and look. And if you don’t, at the very least, I enjoy it all and that’s really what matters.

Thinking about the Theme for 2010

December is upon us and about to crest, leading us into the descent of 2009. This means the end of the first decade of the 21st century, an utterly meaningless metric, but one that has provided me with no fewer than four “Greatest Metal Albums of The Last Decade” lists. Not bad. Everyone seems to like Mastodon’s Leviathan, which I’ve never really listened to. I’ll have to give it a go.

And with the fading of 2009 another year’s theme comes to an end. The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories, though not yet through, has been a success as far as I am concerned. With the express purpose of getting me to be consistently creative and come out of the year with some work done, the year has been a resounding success. While I am not yet at my quota for either task, I am confident that within the next few weeks I should be able to make it. 50% of the stories are finished at 92% of the photos. Pretty good. I have a lot of writing to do and a few photos to take, but we’re in the home stretch and I feel good about it. Let’s not also discount the film I am cutting right now and all the time and effort poured into this site for my 10 readers. I love all of you.

With three weeks left in the year, it’s time to think of my theme for 2010. In my statement for the Theme of 2009, I discussed some previous years and the efficacy of those choices. I’m not going into it again here, but I’ll sum it all up and say some were hits and some were clear misses. Last year I described a good theme as being “broadly applicable with recognizable short term goals”. I still think this is a good way to evaluate a potential theme, but I’d like to add that the theme should have demonstrable results, that is, I should be able to show something for my efforts. The best way to improve myself is by doing. All the thinking about something in the world won’t make you better at it. You have to get out there and get your hands (proverbially) dirty. It’s old wisdom, but true.

Another aspect of my yearly theme is that once complete the theme should continue into the next year. I intend to take another 5000 photos and write 50 more short stories next year and to keep a counter of those on the right hand side. But since they’re a secondary goal, I won’t be killing myself to get them done. My primary focus will be the Theme of 2010, of course.

But what is the Theme of 2010? I don’t know yet, but I have some ideas.

  • The Year of 3 Music Videos – In September, I wrote about building a body of motion work. Amongst my various bodies of work, my film & video work is easily the most poorly represented. I have plenty of photos to share and fewer but still ample stories, but how many pieces of motion work have I posted here that I have done? If you answered “Zero”, you’d be correct. And it’s clear I like music videos and the music that supports them. The only real drawback to this theme is that each video is a big project in itself and to get behind would certainly spell doom for this theme. There are a lot of steps involved though, so perhaps it could still fit the pattern of work posting I’ve established with The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories which would help me stay on task and stay honest.
  • The Year of 12 Short Stories – “But, Joe,” you say, “didn’t you just do The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories? What’s with cutting the quota down so much? Are you lame or something?” No, I’m not lame. Instead of writing 500 word chunks, these 12 short stories would be much more finished pieces, actually receiving—GASP!—revisions. These would be multiple-sitting efforts. I think the one per month pace would allow for some breathing room, and let me think about the work more. In terms of length, let’s call them somewhere in the range of 5,000 to 15,000 words. This year the longest thing I’ve written is about 3000 words. It was the first thing I posted for this year’s theme. The Biker Kills a Mexican. That one took me a few nights at the computer, but received no revisions. I’m proposing 12 stories of at least double the length. It’s a good amount of work, I think, but manageable.
  • The Year of the Novella – Here the idea is to write the longest single thing I’ve ever written. I like the novella, it’s like a long short story, or a baby novel. I suppose it depends on which direction you’re coming from. It would be an exercise in developing something more thoroughly than I ever have before and sticking to it. The SFWA defines a novella as a piece between 15,000 and 40,000 words, but other definitions go as low as 10,000 and as high as 70,000. That’s certainly a fairly broad range and suitable for work throughout the year. Maybe this could evolve into The Year of 2 Novellas in order to keep me busy. If I wrote 500 words a day, my current per-day volume of work, then 70,000 words would take 140 days. Average in some days without writing, and we’re still looking at barely half a year. Just something to keep in mind.
  • The Year of 3 Screenplays – It has been a long time since I’ve written for screen, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something I still care about. Writing is writing. Writing 3 feature length screenplays of roughly 120 pages each would be a great way to get back into it. I’ve got some ideas boiling around the back of my brain that would be great for films. I just need to get them out and onto (electronic) paper.

I think that in those suggestions, somewhere, lies the theme for 2010 that will make the year a great one. Perhaps I combine Short Stories and Music Videos, or Music Videos and Novella, or Music Videos and Screenplays, or Short Stories and Screenplays? The cross disciplinary approach worked well enough for me this year. When I didn’t write, at least I could take pictures. When I could take pictures, at least I could write.

Anyway, food for thought. I need think about this a little more. What do you all think out there in Black Laserland?

On deleting photos and why I never do it

I never ever delete photos. Well, that’s not entirely true. I almost never delete a photo when in the field, and NEVER delete a photo once it’s made it onto my computer. The only photos I will delete from my camera while shooting are the “Oops, I pressed the shutter button with the lens cap still on” type. Everything else, even if maybe it doesn’t look at that exciting then, I keep and evaluate later. The difference between how a 5616 × 3744 RAW looks on a rinky dink 3″ VGA resolution screen and how it looks on my color calibrated 1920 x 1200 24″ monitor at home is often night and day. On the tiny screen you can get a rough impression of what’s going on in the photo, but there is no nuance. I really only ever use it for checking exposure. You can’t check focus on the damned thing, so why even try? There have been so many times that I’ve taken a photo, thought it to be a total discard, only to look at it later and realize that it’s much better than I’d thought. Good I didn’t do the hasty thing and delete the photo I was iffy about in the field.

Of course, shooting RAW and never deleting anything means I have a tremendous need for storage capacity. Fortunately for all of us, I have 3 8gb compact flash cards I use which have proven to be vastly more capacious than I require over the course of a day, often longer. Whenever the 5DIII comes out, I’ll need to upgrade my cards, no doubt, but by then 64gb cards will be cheap and easily accessible, like 1gb cards were when I got my 20D in 2004. Ah the inevitable march of technology. It makes me want to buy a 35mm camera, a film scanner, and just go analog. One day when I have more reliable income again, I will do that. Not as a replacement, but as an addition to my current setup.

I don’t know why anyone out there other than my dad would care about this, but I was thinking about it after reading something on the internet and thought I’d share. I’m always interested to learn about how people work since it often provides insight into the work itself. And if not, it’s fun to talk shop.

L’esprit de l’escalier

“Oh those pictures are dope. But it’s because you have such a nice camera.”

“Yeah, that’s right, I just manually set aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, composed based on desired effect and available light, focused, chose the proper lens, picked the exact right moment to release the shutter, picked the nicest photos from the set, and developed them so as to extract the most detail possible and further enhance the effect I had in mind when shooting. The camera really does most of the work.”

An inspired triptych.

While in Minnesota, I was looking out at the hazy expanse of seemingly endless water on Lake Superior and I was reminded of Sugimoto Hiroshi’s Seascapes. Standing on the edge of the inland sea there I thought I should probably see if I can create something like I remembered them to be. I ended up taking three photos, all of Lake Superior, at different places and times of day. I am going to get them printed and put them on my wall which I think will be nice, but I am having a hard time deciding which ones I like more, color or black and white.

Here are the color ones.

Here are the black and white ones.

They will hang in this order, left to right, on the wall as 12″ square prints. I highly recommend clicking on the photos for a closer look or even going to Flickr to look at the 2K sized ones.

My only hesitation is that the last time I printed black and white photos for the wall, I ended up hating them. But that might be because that was a whole lot less thought out than this. Anyway, I’d love your comments.

Amortizing Creative Expenditures

I’ve long contended that for each dollar I spend on a particular piece of photographic equipment I must take at least one photograph with it. So, if I spend 1800 dollars on a Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS zoom lens, then I’d better well take 1800 photos with it. (note: I have. More than that, in fact.) It’s simple math, easily managed, and, most of all, it makes sense. I’ve written about it on here somewhere else before, I think, but I can’t find the post so you’ll have to just trust me. It has worked quite well for me as a guideline while informing new purchases and once I’ve purchased an item. Am I going to use x piece of equipment to take y number of photos or is it something I can live without? Now that I’ve purchased item z, I’d better throw it in my bag because there’s no way I’ve taken n photos with it yet. It has protected me from frivolous purchases in the past and made me think about using the tools I already have. It’s a good system. I recommend it to any photographers out there.

But photography is not my only artistic endeavor. I am also a writer (as you well know), a professional in the moving image field, and I dabble in songcraft. It occurred to me while I was walking to the Apple Store to purchase a laptop backpack—the current messenger style bag I use hurts my fucking back—that I don’t have a useful metric for justifying those purchases. No, “justify” is the wrong word. It makes it sound like I’m making an excuse for the purchase; I’m not. I don’t have a useful metric to ensure that I get my money’s worth out of an item. What sort of production quotas make sense to meet to make the expenditure, and thereby the time I’ve spent working to make that money, a fair trade? With the photography, it’s easy. I’m constantly producing. Look at my hard drives. They’ll tell you all about it. But that’s not necessarily true of video editing or music creation software. They are tools I use to create things but are not inherently productive in and of themselves. Music production software (Logic) can be used to make something from scratch. Editorial or VFX software is even more difficult because they are often just PARTS of the chain of production. Making beautiful photographs and making beautiful films are both difficult things, but photography is a much more solitary craft than filmmaking. A craftsman can make beautiful photographs all by himself, but good luck making a beautiful film all by yourself. It’s all but totally impossible.

But difficulty has nothing to do with it. The difficulty is just a challenge to the creator, a hurdle, a bump in the road.

Therefore, I propose this system to make my purchases of music and video tools feel reasonable. Consider it a challenge to myself to make the time I spend working, earning money to spend on tools, fruitful. To make the late nights and weekends at the office work toward making me a self-sufficient creator of things so that I can get myself to a point where all this dicking around IS THE JOB. Imagine that.

Guidelines for expenditures on video tools
For each hundred dollars spent on video tools, I must create at least one minute of finished footage. Dailies do not count. That’s absurd. Finished means that I’ve put time and thought into it. A finished piece is something I would not be embarrassed to show someone. I do not have to provide qualifications for rough bits in finished footage. 1 minute of footage per 100 dollars spent.

Guidelines for expenditures on audio tools
For each hundred dollars spent on audio tools, I must create at least one song or three minutes of mixed audio. Audio demands a higher creative price since I can sit and create without outside help. Audio also has two possible avenues for amortization since using audio software to mix for video is a perfectly valid use. A song is defined similarly to a piece of finished footage, that is, I’ve put thought and effort into it. I would not hesitate to post it here on The Black Laser. I do not need to qualify it in any way.

I think these are pretty useful guidelines, and will definitely help me focus my energies into short term, highly feasible goals. I’ve already mentioned plans to put together music videos, and many people know about the mystery that is Fantasies About Time Travel. I’ve also been thinking about dropping some choice Ghettotech beats under a pseudonym, like DJ Muad’Dib, MC Kwisatz Haderach, or Duncan Idaho. Bonus points for pinpointing how badly I just dorked out there.

Barry’s first 167 days, the photos

The Boston Globe has posted a new “Big Picture” with photographs from Barry’s first 167 days in office. Politics aside, you must admit that there are some very good photos in this collection.

Here are some of my favorites.





Here is the whole set.