Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bring on the Drama

The photographer's art is making the mundane seem less ordinary, more dramatic, than it seems to the naked eye. We do this a few ways. Call them techniques, or call them cheap tricks. They usually work!

Isolation: Take something that is normally seen in context, remove the context, and there's a new drama to a simple object. You could photograph a dancer on a stage, or you could photograph her in a studio doing the same moves. Chances are, the studio shot will outshine the in-context stage shot. The use of heavy "bokeh" (out-of-focus elements in a partly focused field of view) also isolates that which the photographer wishes to present out of context.

Juxtaposition: Using a contrast between two opposed ideas or symbols is another way to isolate a subject. If we show protesters holding up God Hates Fags signs, we should show them in front of a billboard depicting a great homosexual contributor to our society. A puppy is just a puppy, until you put it near the jaws of an alligator. A flower is beautiful, but not terribly dramatic as a photographic subject. A flower lying in a dirty gutter addresses feelings of loss, despair, and resignation.

Absence: Tire-tracks can say more about a road than moving vehicles do. A vigorous performer can be captured backstage, exhausted and without his audience, and say more about how hard he works than he can when we see him moving enthusiastically in front of his adoring fans.

The ultimate poignance is found in pictures of 9/11's "ground zero," everything there except what is supposed to be there, the World Trade Center.

Enhancement: Motion blur connotes fast action. Bokeh adds mystery by taking out specifics. Tweaks to saturation can add and subtract realism from an image. Conversion to black and white is a kind of enhancement through subtraction. By removing unnecessary color information, the photographer directs attention to tones and contours that would otherwise be buried in psychedelic controversy.

Echoing: This means finding scenes where the lines or mass of one object are repeated, possibly at a different scale, in another object of the background. Picture a sleeping lion backed by golden hills, the curves of the flesh making the same lines as the hills in the background.

Plain old line work: We see this in any "tunnel" shot where lines recede to a vanishing point in the distance. We also see this in many commonplace photos, where lines on a road, a building, or any other straight-sided entity combine to emphasize or enhance the subject. Perhaps the lines in the greater field of view echo those in the subject. Perhaps they point to it, converging on the center of interest. Regardless, good lines are appealing to the eye and can make a mundane item seem extraordinary.

I'll be working into this essay if I think of anything else we do to make the ordinary worth looking at again and again, for its beauty, singularity, and yes, drama.

Why You Hate Flower Macros

--Flowers are inanimate and unchallenging to shoot. There's no need to snap the shutter at just the right moment. Insect shots fare better than do flower shots, by way of illustration. The person who shoots a dragonfly hovering above a pond will do far better than does the one who shoots just the waterlilies.

--You hate flower macros because they represent the feminine. You are manly and aggressive; the soft, pretty petals of an old rose are ladylike, weak.

--You might think of flowers as Other People's Art (OPA), and dismiss them the way I dismiss pictures of buildings, which are another category of OPA. Though many pretty flowers are the results of humanity's hybridization efforts, and therefore works of some kind of art, flowers are also, in a broader sense, fait accompli when we come upon them, regardless of the origin of their beauty. Whether you cite your god or the marvelous unfolding of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the beauty you see when you view a flower is less the photographer's accomplishment than it is a natural fact of the world you live in. So, rather than having captured an ironic street scene, framed and timed with your expert eye, you have really just seen something pretty and pointed a lens at it...something "anyone" can do. And worse, there's no irony!

I don't love most OPA shots. I have trouble praising those who shoot vintage cars, old buildings, neon signs, and even sunsets, though I have made a study of the sunrises I see from my living room above the Port of Los Angeles. As with flowers, we only see a screenshot of that what is beautiful, and owes its beauty to something other than the photographer's talent.

I love flower macros. I love the patterning in the elements of a flower, whether it's the mathematically perfect petal arrangement of a formal double Camelia japonica, the elaborate layout of the seeds in a sunflower's center, or the spiral arrangement of the leaves of an agave.

Not only does the rebel in me enjoy loving an innocent beauty that is despised by the majority, but my family's roots are in working the land. I see every plant and every flower as the outcome of a wondrous transformation when a seed, some soil, and some water conspire to break the earth, reach the sky, and release to the breeze the pollen that will make more seeds, more breaking and reaching and pollenating, and yes, more sighs at the beauty of it all.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Photographing Poor People

I have so many objections to street photography depicting the homeless that I felt the need to get them all down. Some are personal, some are political. I'd love to hear from you if any of my reasons resonate with you.

1. Unattractive: We usually avoiding looking at the homeless outdoors. Why make it hard for us indoors?

2. Elitist: By documenting the "otherness" of your homeless subject, you inherently separate yourself from his milieu and cannot avoid condescension.

3. Not sympathetic: Well, how would you like being photographed at your worst?

4. Not brave: Not when compared to asking a beautiful stranger if you can photographer her as she shops.

5. Trendy and facile: The excesses of an era are easy to document. Got anything else?

6. Self-serving: Always meant to indicate an eye for depth or pathos, they bring about such reactions only in the artistically naive.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Charis Wilson | 1914-2009 -

Nice piece. I love what Weston said about meeing Charis. It's in the little photo gallery down the left.

Link: Charis Wilson | 1914-2009 -

Monday, November 23, 2009

Herbal remedies need real scrutiny -

From this it would seem that marijuana is an herbal remedy, not a drug, under the law.

"The DSHEA law draws a line between synthesized medicines like aspirin and remedies made from herbs, minerals, vitamins and amino acids. This latter group was recategorized as "dietary supplements" -- that is, as foods rather than drugs."

Link: Herbal remedies need real scrutiny -

Does the FDA police any other herbal remedies? Any other herbal toxins for that matter?

Tricked-Out Inflatable House Provides “Instant Survival” | Wired Science |

I want one, but this article gives new meaning to "vaporware." The airhouse seems to be CGI.

Link: Tricked-Out Inflatable House Provides “Instant Survival” | Wired Science |

Garden sheds, car covers, lotsa cool things are possible.

Inflatable photo booth houses 11-megapixel camera, fun | Crave - CNET

Op-Ed Contributor - Animal, Vegetable, Miserable -

We were to the Farm Sanctuary yesterday and met and touched donkeys, cows, goats, and sheep. We also saw turkeys, ducks, and geese. Also rabbits and chickens.

The place is gorgeous and beautifully kept; it seems two donkeys are up for adoption.

I do suggest that you visit if you're every on I-5 passing through Orland. We also visited Red Bluffs, which had some charming features.

Link: Op-Ed Contributor - Animal, Vegetable, Miserable -

Are your beliefs about animals different from his?

Kanye West: Close, but not the same cigar*

Kanye West was getting close to something when he said George Bush doesn't care about black people. Actually, George Bush did care about black people, and every kind of people.

It's Wall Street who doesn't care about black people, or any kind of people.

Any President's intentions, filtered through the influence of Wall Street's highest paid prostitutes, end up appearing to make no sense. We are seeing this again with President Obama. We had an idea before he was elected of how he'd like things to turn out, but he is having trouble getting from A to B. Who's stopping him? I think the Krugman piece cited below gets to that question.


* Who said this? Evan Heit?

Op-Ed Columnist - The Phantom Menace -

Of some interest to the Maloney gang. Krugman opining about what's really going on.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist - The Phantom Menace -

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HubPages: 7 Things We Did to Beat Squidoo (Case of “less is more”)

I started dabbling in recently. You can write articles about any topic you know well, and if your work gets good traffic you will be paid. The brilliant thing is that you may write about whatever you wish, as long as you are informative, authoritative, and suitable for all audiences. At competitors like Demand Studios, writers must choose among very narrowly defined topics, many of which are quite esoteric and in this writer's view, not worth the effort of researching for the small financial gain of $7.50 in most cases. offers more freedom and hence will end up attracting the best writers. Demand Media, meanwhile, has begun offering some limited health benefits to prolific authors of articles and videos for Demand Studios, their online content creation factory.

Link: HubPages: 7 Things We Did to Beat Squidoo (Case of “less is more”)

Op-Ed Contributor - Protect the Farm, Tax the Manor -

Bereft of logic!

Link: Op-Ed Contributor - Protect the Farm, Tax the Manor -

"Thus, while a person who earns $200,000 by working must contribute more than $50,000 in federal taxes, a person who inherits $200,000, or even $200 million, pays no income taxes at all." Yes, he would pay income tax on his salary that year. And next year, when the other guy inherits, they both pay tax on their salaries and the other guys does not have to pay tax on his inheritance.

Me: If you can't get wealthy enough to retire and then allow your kids to retire early on what's left over, how is this a free country? It means people are being FORCED to work. Weird.

The estate tax system provides an essential counterpoint to this giveaway. American estate tax rates have been as high as 77 percent, so 55 percent would be reasonable when coupled with a general exemption of $1 million to $2 million.

Me: How does a crazy figure like 77% justify a crazy figure of 55%? To me it says the people who set these figures are nuts, so why trust anything they come up with? I think inheritance is similar to a cap gain--passive income. 15% across the board.

The naifs that set these rules think being rich is easy. It isn't. You just have more expensive problems.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Simple Dollar » Selling My Future, One Dollar At A Time

We can generate a rule of thumb for this. I think the guy is nuts wrt to 10%, of course, but in his world, every dollar he saves comes back five-fold if he invests it instead. So as he shops he can look at the real cost of every thing he wants. The ten buck DVD is really 50 bucks in opp'y costs. We can work out a metric like this for gold and silver. Hey, pick your own metric based on your predictions about the stock market and gold and inflation. Either way, having a "multiple in mind" while you fondle the merch is probably a great tool to aid investing versus splurging with your earnings. (Hey Mike--I can't even call it "money" any more!)

Link: The Simple Dollar » Selling My Future, One Dollar At A Time

Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Squander -

This explains the AIG atrocity well, even if you disagree with his ideas about it.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Squander -