Thursday, December 13, 2012
Thursday, November 15, 2012
People say that it's easier to be wordy than it is to be concise. Strange, but true. This week, I found myself having to describe the Cree Star Blanket project in two short paragraphs as part of a promotional strategy. In six sentences, I had to talk people through the who, what, when, where, and why of the project. Essentially, I had to boil down my 1,400 word blog post into something that could fit on the back of a 5x7 postcard. I also got my introduction to Adobe InDesign, which I must say is a very handy program. Thanks to Will Workman who designed the postcard. I hope it's making at least a bit of a splash in in the Mile-High City. For those interested in learning more about the project, click here. For those wanting to purchase the book, click here.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
While I wait for the initial copies of Cree Star Blanket to arrive at my doorstep for a preliminary evaluation, I’ve decided to finally start a personal project of mine that I’ve been thinking about for a few months. People like Steve Simon, Zack Arias, Chase Jarvis, and David Hobby all put a lot of emphasis on personal projects. Having just completed one, I know the feeling. That was more of a magazine piece in a hardcover book, though. The writing and the fact-finding was just as important, if not a little bit more important than the photos. There were two kinds of photos in Cree Star Blanket — photos that documented the actual project, like the mosaic or archive photos of the Chalk Talk activity (most of which were not taken by me as I could not create the book while the project was actually happening) and portraits of teachers and students that were involved with the project to provide some “faces of the project”, if you will. This time, however, I’m aiming for something that is far more skewed to photos than writing, though there will inevitably be a few sentences here and there.
So, what is this project? Well, a few months ago, I decided to see how interested my friends were in letting me document them in their personal spaces, like their offices, garages, bedrooms, etc. I sort of did a “proof of concept” a few months ago when I documented Michael’s dorm room before he dismantled it. It showed promise. I was too occupied with Cree Star Blanket to really take on another project at the same time, but I didn’t want to give up on the idea, so I’m starting it again. I might make it a series of short photo essays (one essay per subject), all focused on the idea of being young, and how different people go about it. There is not one way of being a teenager, but there is a general idea of youth that older people sort of rally around. Sometimes it’s positive, but often it’s negative. When it is positive, it’s usually just a list of accomplishments from someone labeled a wunderkind meant to give the viewer an inferiority complex. The subjects of these often “softer-than-soft” news snippets aren’t really portrayed as real, multifaceted people. I hope to go beyond that.
I might approach this like an old LIFE story, following a person around for a few hours of their day, with a majority of that time spent in the personal space that means most to them. The room/office/garage would serve as a visual anchor for the rest of the story, a repeating motif that unifies the project. I don’t think I could pull a Gene Smith and follow someone around for 3 weeks. Not yet, anyway. Somewhere in the middle of the project, I might incorporate video into it, if I feel comfortable enough with the medium (that’s after I get a dSLR that can shoot video that isn’t awful).
Do you have a personal space that you would like me to document and show to the world (on this blog or elsewhere)? Does this space have “you” written all over it? Would you mind being casually interviewed? If so, drop me a line and tell me briefly why you should be considered. I’ll be contacting a few people as well. I can’t guarantee that everyone will have a chance, but I’ll consider every entry.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
UPDATE (11/06/2012): The book is now available for purchase as a PDF, a softcover, or as a hard cover book with dust jacket (which was how the book was intended to be read). To order a copy and to support this project, please click here.
NEW: Preview the first 15 pages of the book below. Click the full screen button for best results.
Monday, June 18, 2012
This is one of a few images I took for "the book", which is what I've taken to calling, well, the book project. Creative, right? Well, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to use it for. It thought it could be for some kind of divider page.
Once again, the 60" Impact umbrella was used, with the black backing covering half the shoot-thru to limit the spill on the background, with a pale gold gel on my SB-600. I can't remember if I used TTL flash or manual flash. I had reflectors, but once again, they proved to be useless. By default, I usually put my lights to the left of my subject, but in this instance, I wanted it to look somewhat like window light, and the windows were on the right.
The end is still not in sight for the book project. It keeps me up at night, literally. I stayed up until 3 am planning for this shoot and interview (but mostly shoot). I still have a lengthy audio interview to go over and pick juicy quotes from. However, the conversation about bra stuffing will sadly have to remain on the cutting room floor.
In other news, I've updated my 500px profile for the first time in forever, so check that out if you so desire. However, I'm rather disappointed that they're reserving the Portfolio feature for Awesome members only 19 days from now, so I'll need to reprint my business cards. I don't think I'm being vindictive when I say that they left something to be desired anyway. Maybe I'll plug away at my long-abandoned Wix site again, or just bite the bullet and join SmugMug or Zenfolio or something. In the mean time...
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
|A screenshot of a proposed page.|
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
(Before you freak out that this isn't a photo-related post, there's a set up shot at the bottom for gearheads. I haven't forgotten about you.)
I am a bit of a pen geek. I am by no means a collector, and I don’t have the money to spend on the serious pens (i.e., anything over $30). I am a big fan of high value products, though, and LAMY is known for some very good, reasonably inexpensive writing utensils. The Safari line of pens (including the Vista and the AL-Star) is what they’re best known for, of course. My blue plastic Safari fountain pen has gotten me through an entire year of university rather splendidly, but that is a review for another day. Instead, I’d like to focus on the LAMY Logo ballpoint pen, in particular the stainless steel version. This example was a gift from Japan, and long story short, I’m quite pleased with it.
Each Lamy product is known for its workmanship, and this one is no exception. Though it is far more expensive than most student pens (at $12-$16) it is something that you will keep for a lifetime, and will bring you joy each time you use it for the price of a few coffees. The clip is not a cheap plastic bit to be snapped off at a moment’s notice, but rather a spring-loaded affair that really demonstrates the attention to detail during the design process. When the button is pressed, the click is audible, and the spring inside feels substantial. It inspires a lot of confidence. That being said, if you are a compulsive pen-clicker, those beside you will quickly tire of the sound. I suppose it is like the shutter sound of a Nikon camera — satisfying, but rather noticeable.
The attention to detail carries into the assembly. Sometimes, when spring-loaded pens are disassembled, the miniscule spring inside explodes out of the pen with such force that it is carried across the room. If this happens in a crowded lecture hall, it might never be found again, rendering the pen useless. This cannot happen with the Lamy Logo. The spring is permanently installed inside the tip of the pen, and cannot be easily removed. The pen cleanly separates into three distinct pieces, no more, no less.
The black Lamy M16 cartridge inside is smooth, but not quite as smooth as my usual ballpoint pen, the disposable Staedtler Ball 432 in blue. It is the most satisfying ballpoint pen I’ve ever used, for the exorbitant price of $0.50. Light, extremely comfortable, and smooth as can be (I have a fondness for triangularly-shaped pen barrels). The Staedtler is the second-most effortless writing tool I’ve ever used, apart from the Safari on good paper. I’m sure the gold-nibbed fountain pens would be a revelation, but alas, that level of writing satisfaction will only be experienced by me after a comfortable accumulation of wealth.
So why would I bother with a ballpoint if I enjoy fountain pens so much? I reach for it when the paper I use does not lend itself to fountain pen ink. Copy paper and the lined paper inside UVic exam booklets come to mind. I don’t exert much pressure when I write, so that could be the reason for my preference. Still, the Logo seems to me like the sort of pen that could be handed to clients to sign contracts. It is the ideal pen to accompany a suit. The silver finish is fit for any occasion and sure beats a hotel pen or some other disposable. The slim barrel doesn’t take up much room. It isn’t flashy, but it’s impressive and it makes a statement. Maybe I’ll use it as a tie clip and see if anyone notices...
Click the photo for the setup info.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Thursday, May 10, 2012
An old YTV commercial that I saw in the '90's (and still see today) asks, "What's Your Thing"? For some of those kids, it was bugs or magic. For Dr. Richard Hebda, it's ancient environments and plants. A few minutes with the man is all that's needed to figure out that he's really enthusiastic about what he does. A job as a curator suits him. Peat deposits are his thing, pictures are mine.
When I'm not taking making pictures of cats, I'm a shooter and occasional writer for my university's paper, The Martlet. On that Thursday morning, I was both. I put on a brave face before walking into the fossil collection, but I had just woken up an hour before and had to call a taxi to get there on time. I brought all the gear I needed, but overloaded myself. I forgot my written interview questions at home. The shot I thought would be the cover (and formatted as the cover) didn't end up being used. Such is the life of a photojournalist. It makes your deodorant work overtime, but it's worth it. Usually I hate flying by the seat of my pants, but when I have a camera with me, suddenly it seems OK.
The story is about the new Dinosaur exhibition that's happening at the Royal BC Museum, one that's sure to draw a crowd. It's a show from the American Museum of Natural History that uses new tools to look at old bones. University students and preschoolers should take note. The older students will appreciate the biomechanics, the younger students will like the huge skeletons they've got. I'm going to the press preview of the exhibit tomorrow, and I can't wait. A dinosaur skeleton hasn't been in the RBCM for a few years now, and it'll be interesting to see what's different between Dragon Bones and this exhibit. That was one of the questions I asked him...
That reminds me - I ended up remembering the questions I wrote down, but he went well beyond them, which made him the perfect interview subject. Nothing's worse than asking questions and getting terse yes/no replies. I guess I treat interviews like I treat PJ work. It gets better when it doesn't go according to plan.
Read the original article here: http://martlet.ca/martlet/article/dinosaurs-warning/
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Thursday, May 3, 2012
I decided to “walk like Jay” and carry a single camera with a telephoto lens to a tourist haunt in my home town for an hour or two of people watching. I encountered no resistance, and ended up with a few decent pictures. I noticed quite a few were of young people, either enjoying themselves or deep in thought. There were a few shots of old people as well, relaxing with a bag of Cheezies. Over the years, I’ve become reasonably talented at going unnoticed with a camera, even a large one with a motor drive and a long lens. However, as I picked and flagged inside Lightroom, I started to have doubts about what I did.
There is no denying that being a photographer involves an invasion of space, an intrusion into the life of someone else. It is sort of like observing absolute zero in that the mere act of observation changes the situation enough to render it different than it would have been had the observer not been there. When the subject does not have a reasonable expectation to be photographed, it matters even more. No celebrity expects privacy at a red carpet event where they are meant to be paraded to the adoring masses. However, a street photographer is often invisible, and the reasonable expectation of privacy that you expect in public (yes, even in the era of social media) is being violated in the name of artistic expression.
Of all street photographs, it is those of children that inspire the most emotionally-charged debates around privacy. In fact, a photo of a child that I took stoked my discomfort and inspired this post. “Peeping Toms” and pedophiles are loathed for good reasons, and while a parent might not jump to conclusions so quickly, my presence (if noticed) would certainly arouse suspicion. It is unfortunate as children often make the most interesting subjects. They are not tempered by social conventions and their actions and expressions are genuine in every way, making them ideal subjects. They are also vulnerable, and the horror stories of exploited children and perverted adults are not easily forgotten in this day and age. Many of us have been trained to be distrustful of others, and to assume that they have ulterior motives as a means of protection. I know I have.
I understand how unsettling it can be when someone like me, a private citizen, finds a picture of myself online shot by a stranger. Imagine seeing a photo of your child online while she was at play. Some parents would be interested or amused. Many others, in this paranoid child-proof world, would be upset. Some years ago, I was asked by a woman if I would pose for her after playing a concert. The adults responsible for me at the time found it creepy, as did I. I immediately thought that she had an ulterior motive of some kind. The mere thought that a potential subject might think that I meant harm as a photographer is extremely frightening to me.
One thing I have not addressed is consent. If I asked the parent of child I thought was visually arresting if I had their permission to document her and post the results for the world to see, I would have no qualms doing so. If it was good, I’d hype it and post a link as soon as possible. However, this is often not possible, as awareness can alter a scene irreversibly. In addition, I find myself uncomfortable and unable to approach those I do not know. It simply is not in my nature to do so. Whatever my private discomforts are about taking a stranger’s photo, it would beat the public embarrassment of potentially being thought of as a creep. The lady at the concert asked for permission, didn’t get it, and will be forever remembered by me as kind of creepy. I don’t know if I could handle that. I feel guilty thinking of her this way, but I can’t help it. Maybe it was the tone of her voice, or some sort of preconceived notion (for I know nothing about her) that aroused my suspicions. I guess I’ll never know if the concern was warranted.
I’ve often skirted around this issue by shooting people’s backs while “on the street”. Somehow, a shot of the back of someone’s head doesn’t invade their privacy so much, while a likeness does. The subject could be anyone, and the added anonymity gives me comfort. However, this tactic can’t be used all the time. Besides, “the eyes are the window to the soul”, and it is no surprise that the greatest portraits of people usually show their faces. That insight into the emotions of the subject, the act of exposing one’s self for the world to see, provides endless fascination for me and for anyone who appreciates a candid photograph of any sort.
Perhaps I feel discomfort because I know I have not given anything back to my anonymous subjects. I feel selfish not telling them and not sharing a positive experience that hinges on their actions. Sometimes having your photo taken by a stranger could be the highlight of their day. Jay’s subjects seem to feel that way. Would sharing the joy that I feel with those I photograph rid me of this discomfort? Is ridding myself of this discomfort worth risking rejection and potential anger, however misplaced? I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try. If I want to progress as a shooter, I’ll definitely have to get over those fears. If I can do that by the end of the summer and nothing else, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I welcome any comments and thoughts on this. I think it is a discussion worth having.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Over the last few months, I've been mucking about as part of The Ink Pneumites, a trip-hop/funk band based in my friend Todd Schmid's basement. Having stepped away from a different genre of music for the time being, it's interesting to be a part of something radically different from what I'm used to. There are some vestiges of classical me. I prefer reading music over memorizing it in order to have something to fall back on. I'm more of an interpreter than a creator, though I hope that will change over time. I count in like a conductor rather than a band member. The music is rhythmically challenging, with odd time signatures and polyrhythms abound. Still, it is very innovative. Brian Thornley and Todd, along with the other band members (which are still in flux) jam occasionally but often just figure out how to interpret music written for a machine and adapt it to the imperfections and charms of human performance.
I end up shooting a lot of the band's practices, because it is often a wealth of inspiration. Moving targets in a dark basement make for challenging lighting conditions, and no one lens seems to do it all, though my limited arsenal doesn't help me here. I've shot the inside with a D200 at ISO 1600 and 3200 (horrendous), a D90 at the same settings (more than acceptable) and various lenses (including my beloved manual 70-210 f/4 lens (not such a good idea). The small fast primes seem to be working well, though only sporadically. Light comes from a single overhead fixture (horribly orange) or the daylight from beyond the window (fantastic when available). I've mixed bounce flash in before, and it has led to some very usable, if flat results. Great for run and gun and capturing moments, but it is distracting and rather dull. Too many strobes going off in a short period of time often blind people, and the last thing I want to be is a distraction. That's not what being a fly on the wall means. The band had me mixing strobe with daylight in light mods (really stressing a single SB-600 in an umbrella sized for 2 SB-910's with power packs or big flash) for promo pics too, so it's really run the gamut. It's good shooting practice, too, though the subject matter is the same. Changing looks in a confined space is tough. I guess it's just a great catalyst for my creativity, musically and photographically.
Have a listen to our work at: