Monday, October 31, 2011
I remember Halloween last year pretty clearly. Helps that I enjoyed a bit of photography and exploration to ignite the synapses. It was a mostly cloudy say, chilly but not bitter, and I was horribly bored. Ventured to Starbucks for a change of scenery and had myself an Americano, quad shot, 3 packets of Splenda and a heap of creamer. Ran into my friend Autumn who was also bored that day and opted to enjoy some fresh air over a good book. I sat down with her for a short while and we chatted about this and that, but then we got the crazy idea of indulging in a bit of urbex to mark the holiday proper. At the time, there was only really one place worth going (and I will forever miss it), so we ventured to our spot and proceeded to inhale the stale air and enjoy ourselves, immersed in the history around us.
Lately I've actually been rather sad that this particular locale has recently outweighed its risk/reward balance. A definite shame, I feel as if a great potential had yet to be unlocked with all of my visits there. But that's another story entirely. Besides, I'm quite happy I had the chance to enjoy the place at all.
So where did you folks spend your Halloween?
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I'd had Olympus' 45mm f/1.8 lens on order for nearly 6 weeks, and would have much rather been out and about with that speed demon mounted on the E-P3, but instead I made do with Panasonic's 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom dialed all the way in to 45mm to try and force myself to learn and think with the 45mm (90mm, really) focal length. Locked in at f/5.6 as my best speed, the only method I had of isolating a subject was through proximity, so I pushed the lens as hard as I could to behave in macro fashion. And it held up surprisingly well, with a fairly close distance available in manual focus. More often than not, I found myself focusing by moving myself in and out rather than turning a dial. Novel method of focusing, really.
Typically I avoid built-in, canned filter effect modes, but I remembered having a good amount of success with them when using the XZ-1. Olympus really does work some magic with its JPG handling - not only is every facet of how the camera generates a JPG available for your tweaking pleasure (all the way down to tone curves), but its preset options work like some genius magic. The first art filter mode on the list of the E-P3 was "Pop Art", and swtiching to it, the color on the back of the LCD exploded into an array of deliciously autumnal hues that blew the real-life equivalent away. Contrasty reds and blues invaded the world as seen on that little LCD panel, and suddenly I was inspired to shoot everything for sake of seeing how gorgeously the E-P3 would render it.
Aside from the array of filter-augmented JPGs I did try some RAW shooting. Curiosity got the better of me, and since ACR finally acquired RAW format support for the E-P3 I knew I wouldn't be content until I tried it, so I shot a few bracketed RAWs for assembly into HDR images later. Far less satisfying than simply getting a great JPG while there on the scene. The HDR images came out okay, but were not nearly as thrilling to capture knowing that most of the work would require slavery to post. But for sake of making the process easier during shooting, the E-P3 again impressed me by seeming abnormally quick from shot to shot. I remember shooting the GF1 bracketed for RAW capture and the process began with 2 quick shots and 5 more lumbering and slow ones. With the E-P3, each shot came and passed as quick as the last with no lag time associated with shutter reset. Nice. But I was more excited to be cranking out awesome JPG after awesome JPG.
As fortune would finally have it, my 45mm f/1.8 arrived in the mail this past Tuesday. It's rainy, but I'm slated to meet with some good friends at the local coffee house to enjoy some conversation and candid photos. I'm lucky to have a group of friends versed enough in my company to ignore the camera. I get the best shots with them.
Hopefully I'll have some nice samples to share after today.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
It's been just over a year since my diving board leap into the mirror-less pond. Not that I regret the switch at all, the advantages of size and weight with a mirror-less system are enormously beneficial to a person taken to photographing the things I'm most apt to photograph. The cameras are small and easy to finagle into tight spaces, the lenses are tiny and only require a pocket instead of a bag. Perfect matches to the urbex aficionado. But I'm not exclusive to shooting scenes of abandonment. And although these tiny mirror-less wonders are just as capable of capturing a strong image as any bulky penta-prism equipped behemoth, there's a very abstract, unquantifiable level of connection to the subject that can be experienced when photographing through an optical viewfinder that no EVF can match.
Shooting through an LCD screen introduces a degree of detachment that can make candid photography difficult. The screen may have some ungodly refresh rate, the signal boost that makes low-light imaging on the screen possible may be clean and superb, but my mind recognizes the experience like viewing a television screen. I am not there, what I am viewing on the LCD is not actually happening and I am just taking a snapshot of the program that's on. It's a weird feeling, honestly. With laborious and slow landscape shooting it doesn't tend to be so bad because my attention is directly on the subject and my mind is calculating how to capture much the way the mind process shooting a classic large format camera. There is time to consider the shot. But with candid snap shooting, sitting at a coffee shop with friends and taking photos or sitting around a dance circle as other artists engage in their own art form, the screen is an interruption. Through an optical viewfinder, I am still there, I am still engaged with the scene and acting as a participant. Through an EVF, I am an observer, disconnected and watching the show on TV. It's a very strange feeling.
This stage in my artistic process seems very convoluted. Recently I became aware of the relative unknown site that is Beauty of Decay, an international collective of urbex photography that pushes the envelope of art in much the fashion of 1x. The images hosted by the gallery are absolutely gorgeous, painterly as opposed to documentarian (which is where I feel my images now stand). My appreciation for the high art of photography is very much at odds with my appreciation of the experience of photography that I enjoy, and so I am at a crossroads. I can either pursue the high art, photograph much the way I have been in the past year and hone the skill to produce emotive, quality images, or I can stagnate to the point of artistic degradation, act in true Zen fashion and forget the process and knowledge I have attained so that I can enjoy the act of photographing all over again without the muddied considerations I've adopted. Much as I dwell on these choices, they do not seem to blend at all. They are mutually exclusive paths. The pursuit of one can only come at the sacrifice of the other. I will either be the revered artist or I will enjoy taking pictures.
It's a headache inducing train of thought, really. I miss when photography was simpler. Alas, now I am burdened by knowledge.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Both suffering from pangs of hunger interrupting the serenity of our otherwise candid moment, we decided upon a very hole-in-the-wall looking buffet which only portrayed itself in such a fashion from the bland, blank exterior. Inside, fountains and tall ceilings and a sprawling banquet awaited us, and we indulged in it proper. A filling hour long interlude during which we brainstormed our next adventure from approach to execution. Bill paid, we made our way back onto lonely Pennsylvania roads.
The drive was short compared to the one preceding it, far less distance needing to be covered. It did bring us through a before unseen portion of the city we found ourselves in, and if not for time constraint laid upon us by prior scheduled engagements we could've spent the rest of the day walking those streets and photographing the very old architecture that screamed early 1900's origin. Being a Sunday and still early by Sunday standard, the streets were effectively empty, making the few wanderers navigating the concrete jungle stand out as starkly removed subjects against a mostly stone and brick background. We mutually agreed the city required a return at some point for an early morning street walk and photoshoot, but our objective at hand was in a far bleaker region of the city.
We parted pleasantly, both of us with things to attend to. So much time had already been spent in a vehicle that I took the time to stretch, my back aching as it's apt to do when locked into a seat of any kind for too long. It had been a good day, and I could've fallen asleep with utmost satisfaction that it could not have gone any better at that point, but alas there were still another 8 hours to spend doing something, thus I spent that time with family to bring myself down from my quixotic high amid good company. I shared my sense of accomplishment, shared some of the rough images on the camera prior to the editing I would later apply. I shared the story of the stranger I may as well have known already based on how ridiculously much we shared in common. And upon going to bed, the satisfaction of the day refused to wane...
...I dreamed of photographing some more.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
My eyes opened with motivated intent to a dark room, the only semblance of light coming into focus being a street light bleeding through jostling blinds and casting uneven shadows on me and the wall. Squinting, opening wide, squinting again, I forced my vision into clarity on the digital clock a few feet away. 5:30am, on a clock that was ritualistically 15 minutes fast. Through the slats of the blinds there wasn't even a hint of twilight in the sky. A smile sneaked its way onto my disheveled morning face.
Quietly, with the stealth technique employed by a child on Christmas morning, I slipped off the couch on which I slept, careful not to conjure a ruckus that might disturb my partner still asleep on the opposite end of that same couch. I'd showered the night prior, so a quick splash of cold water served as my only morning jolt before completion of all the other standard niceties of grooming. Clothes selection would be the most important choice of the day: long pants against which to defend against insect tag alongs and little cuts and scrapes, a long sleeve thermal shirt for warmth in the chilly morning and again to protect against those little scrapes, thick palmed gloves good for climbing, heavy, weather resistant boots for trudging through less than kind terrain... the essentials. Camera gearing choices were easy: the E-P3 equipped with the 14mm f/2.5 pancake prime, my primary workhorse equipments, and the XZ-1 for quick snaps, references and anything better handled in a focal length deeper than a 28mm perspective. No bags, no spare lenses... no need. Just a pocket rocket, a pancake equipped artist's tool and a sling bag to hang onto a sturdy, versatile tripod. If any photographer were to tell me I was ill-equipped for my intended outing I would've had difficulty fighting back the appropriate bellow of insulting laughter.
The drive to our intended locale wasn't a short one, offering us ample time to make with the small talk traditional of first time encounters. Strangely, we only seemed to uncover commonalities. It was already apparent that our preferences in camera gear and photographic subjects were incredibly similar, a simple review of our online galleries and a look at the cameras in our hands would have told that story to a complete stranger. While on the drive North, however, the music playing over his car's speakers caught my attention, the telling, genre-defining sounds of post-rock invading my ears. Still a relatively "underground" style of music to date, though certainly accruing more and more market attention with its unique tone. It was an immediate ice breaker, upon which the conversation blossomed into shared experiences and stages of life where only more parallels were drawn. The resultant sense of ease, the warmth of company typically reserved for close family, the immediate brotherhood... suddenly the entire morning felt like a long awakening accompanied by butterfly warmth teasing the belly. A very good morning.
Inside the building we both entered the trance-like state iconic of the diligent worker, the focused photographer, attention impossible to divert. Words went unspoken, sound passe, we invested all of our senses into the act of photography. Softly stepping about the quiet, still space, we soaked in the atmosphere, the chipped paint and rusted hinges, stained doorknobs and splintered floor. We took time to recognize the relics left behind, scattered mail carpeting the floor and lost literature discarded, lost and forgotten. Hours were lost in that building, time spent to piece together a mental image of its better days. Crutches, rotary phones, cushioned chairs and sewing machines, all items that could've told wonderful stories of their own if imbued with the power of speech.
With the same clandestine nature employed in our approach, we made our departure once the inspiration of the place was exhausted. Stopping only momentarily for the farewell courtesy of a few snaps of the building's exterior, we made our way through miserably dense woods and back to our steel tracked guide. The sun had finally managed to achieve a full presence in the sky, pleasantly bathing us in the chill of the shade. It shared the satisfaction of a job well done, of accomplishment. Once again at the car, unpacked and relaxed in the seats, we took a mutual deep breath, engulfing fresher air like some life giving mist. The clock barely read shy of noon, and already our parallel minds erupted with the same idea.
Where to now?
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A majority of last week was spent furthering my experiment in establishing Kneejerk as a recognizable brand. Given the awful state of the weather and relative sense of lethargy, it made sense to pursue the business side of things a bit if I wasn't able to pursue the art. If my last post 7 days back didn't allude to it enough already, coming up with a logo to represent Kneejerk infused me with giddy excitement, enough to grant me the balls to take larger and larger steps into the realms of advertising lesser known to me. As a result, Kneejerk Imagery is now running as an RSS feed thanks to Feedburner, listed on a couple blog listings and, the grand mother of all marketing ventures, being advertised heavily on Facebook.
I've had a running page on Facebook since the beginning of the year to cross post blog updates to and point out little snippits of information or opinion that don't necessarily have a place on a blog (because who writes 3 word blog posts, really). The only audience it ever really managed to reach were direct relatives and friends, not a particularly difficult crowd to cater to. However, some time last month, Facebook's advertising staff was kind enough to send me a redeemable coupon with which to run a trial campaign of their advertising features. Originally this didn't strike any real interest, but in my marketing high of last week I couldn't understand why I hadn't utilized it before. Armed with a wealth of images to serve as the visuals for my advertisements, I assembled an add, set the parameters by which Facebook would target my desired audience and of course set the frequency my ad would appear based on cost-per-click and then it was bombs away. Although excited, rationally I didn't expect much. Holy hell, was I wrong. Thus far the ad has managed to resulted in a couple of "Likes", people posting about Kneejerk in their own feeds, oh, and leading to a 40,000+ strong influx of traffic I had no idea would ever wander my way.
When your audience is small (or even reasonably sized) there are no real expectations, no deadlines or demand for content. But with 40,000+ people serving as an audience, a SILENT audience, the next course of action is terrifying vague. The initial reaction is to cater to the crowd, to ask "What can I do to hold this audience's attention". And a classic blunder is to let the vocalized demands of that audience to direct one's actions. But thus far, this crowd has been completely silent. I'm not sure if it's here to stay or if they poked in, looked around, then left. That initial impulse to play the crowd is still present, however, and has subtly influenced my shooting. Namely, because this influx of traffic has arrived after the first impression made by stylized self-portraits in questionable locales, I've been shooting more self-portraits in... questionable... locales.
Business is complicated.
Inundated by the stress of the monster I accidentally brewed up in my brain, this past weekend became one of relaxation by necessity. Saturday I visited my local Renaissance Faire and photographed some of the fun goings on, and Sunday... well, Sunday deserves its own post, really. Suffice to say it was an incredible day. Originally I intended to write on it today, but business stresses got the better of me.
Creating art is more way fun.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
You know, I think I've been neglecting something these past few years that used to be kind of a big deal to me.
Back in Middle School, those wonderful, impressionable years we spend first figuring ourselves out, I made my first website. It was a shoddy thing, sloppily assembled with obnoxiously tiled pictures for backgrounds and awful midi music playing at all times and a color scheme that could induce spontaneous eye bleeding. Much as I knew the thing looked horrible I was all too excited to make my first embarrassing foray into the World Wide Web. But like a good little participant in the virgin world of a youth-enabled internet, I didn't just leave the site alone like a school thesis paper. No, I kept it organic, modifying it constantly, adjusting content, introducing new material, modifying colors and layout... it was like an experiment in the mass appeal of specific aesthetics. The layout would be published one day, and over that week the community of inquisitive young minds with which I associated (okay, so it turned out they were in their late teens and early twenties, thus making me the miserably nagging whelp) would comment on what worked, what didn't work, suggested changes, anything to make the site less a trigger for migraines. Over the 6 or 7 years that I kept the site running, what began as a subdued seizure of a website became something respectably designed, assembled and executed.
In the process of building that website I acquired most of my knowledge of image editing and effective layout. Some nights I would tool about in the software with no real aim in mind, simply the ultimate objective to make something new, visually stimulating, and potentially cool. I would raster type and use it to create images, or distort it to create what would look nearly like lines of The Matrix, only blue, scrolling horizontally and much more full of glow. And whenever I would come up with an image or some content that struck the right nerve, I would incorporate it in the website somehow, be it in the background, menu interfaces or simply an accent to the title banner. Put simply, my interest was in the design itself.
While in High School I had my mind set on pursuing a degree in graphic design despite a course load and structure that very much pointed in the opposite direction of artistic pursuits. Instead of taking art courses every year the pressure was upon me from the school itself to dive deeper into core studies, math, science and English. Senior year I hit a sort of rebellious point wherein I enrolled in a program that allowed me to skip half the school day assuming I attended a college course instead. With the choice once again my own, I enrolled in my first, and unfortunately only, communications and technologies course. It touched on all the essential areas, the business of creative design, its application, basic principles and techniques, the works. With very little direction or aid from the professor of the course, I excelled, enough to the point that he saw fit to pull me aside and discuss my professional entry into the field. He indulged the business aspects further than he ever did before, and unmasked the razor sharp, competitive nature of the industry. As a yet-to-be-truly-motivated-to-jump-into-a-competitive-career young adult not even yet at 18... I fled in terror from the thought of engaging myself in the graphic design industry. And instead of admitting to terror, I convinced everyone (or at least myself) that I was intent on "forging my own path" so that I could "appreciate" it more.
Ever since then I never really managed to coax myself back into design. That's okay, to some degree - the pure act of photography cropped up very quickly and became my primary pursuit. But last night I was bored. Bored and I had no images to catch up on editing save for two. I took a look at my page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kneejerk-Imagery/197795970252330 for those who didn't know) and noticed the only photos on the page itself were a crappy little banner piece and 3 cell phone snaps of the studio that could've been mine. What with Facebook's little 5-image bar at the top, it made the immediate appearance look kind of ugly, so I took it upon myself to very half-assed-ly compose some business card sized images to take the place of the ill match 5 image spread on the top of the page. So I thought briefly on what I was trying to accomplish exactly with that spread and immediately came up with 5 images on Flickr that advertised the point perfectly. But the images themselves weren't enough. No, they needed something else. In fact, the entire Kneejerk Imagery name needed something a bit more than what it had already gotten. Not more photos, it was late and I was tired. Not another blog post, after all I had nothing to write about. And it clicked - a logo!
Those photographers whose work I appreciate most, I see now that it's not just their photographs alone that makes them stand apart for me in the greater mental space. Something they've all managed to do is convert their talents into a brand. They have iconic logos, usually signatures or symbols, assorted shapes and lines that convey without a doubt that the image itself was conjured by their unique eye. And it makes perfect sense, it is a crucial element of the trifecta of marketing (which isn't really much of a trifecta, marketing successfully takes a lot of work from several directions). I have the media, the content I wish to share is available and I've steadily worked to diversify it from the simple image to varied other media. I have a theme, a general tone, mood, an intent, and although it has been recently derailed I am confident that I can get the train back on the tracks. And while I have a name that pairs beautifully with my intended tone and presented media, it has only ever met with a portion of its potential because the name was missing its simplified public face - its brand and its logo.
I will be frank, the assortment of 5 "branded" images I crafted are very shallow attempts. But the simple act of working on them reminded me of nights spent working my old website back in the far more naive school days. The knowledge I'd accrued during those years came into good use, especially for my very rusty instinct for optimal aesthetics. And I enjoyed creating them, for all the 3-5 minutes a piece they took. The real thrill was in the design of the logo, the KJ symbol. I've always been fond of the minimalist aesthetic, and took care to ensure this "sketch" kept with it. Satisfied with the logo design, it was then a matter of choosing how it should be incorporated in the images, and a partially transparent overlay of it sang wonderful notes to my appeal. It may undergo a bit of metamorphosis, but the point is I know what I want it to look like. And damn does it look good.
KJ will be my little side project for some time now. Maybe I should actually purchase a domain and try that whole website thing again.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Within the first 2, maybe even 3 months of my recovery, the focus of my mind was very different. Still in a state of mental shock, I was occasionally afraid to sleep for fear that I would not wake up the following morning. I couldn't wrap my brain around the reason that I should still be alive, after nearly 2 years of passive self-loathing and longing for an abrupt end. Two years of wishing for an instant and painless dramatic ending, that my shockingly immediate passing would see my art serve as the lasting legacy of the person I'd invented to stand in place of me in the annals of memory. Two years and my wish had been granted. I was aware of nothing, felt nothing, even now I have absolutely no memory of the event. But then I woke up. I felt stiff and tired and sore and not the same. Not the same at all. I died that day, and what was being experienced was something else, some other person, an alien and unfamiliar life wherein there was appreciation for the continued draw of breath.
The person prior to that accident was on the war path of self actualization. He was confident, knew exactly what he wanted and exactly how to do it and the means to acquire that goal were available. He was driven and did not tolerate standing still. He took action. And at that point just before reaching the lofty goal set before him, he achieved the glory of an artist's death - young, talented, handsome and cut down before his prime. Beautiful as any tragic story could ever be.
I do not feel like I am that person anymore, the tragic hero artist. I do not feel that I possess his eye, the instinct to produce art. I do not feel driven by the muse that stirred him from bed every weekend morning to venture out and produce art, the desire to share his view of the world. He died a beautifully tragic death 5 months ago and with him died all his potential. What crawled from his ashes was a husk, an all but hollow chitin shell, doomed to understand the potential stolen by circumstance.
Now, clearly, that is incredibly melodramatic and defeatist. And it's not necessarily representative of how I'm feeling at all times. But at one point throughout each and every day that is a perspective outlook I adopt and for at least a brief moment every 24 hours I feel hollow and broken and deserted by time. It is difficult anymore for me to believe I will ever again reach that idealistic and purpose driven state. What I have returned to is the passive approach to life that I spent years fighting against. The divine motivation is gone. On any given Sunday I will sooner vegetate in front of a computer and play games instead of pursuing that which still honestly satisfies me like little else. I will sooner mope and whine about being bored than actually take direct action and squash the ill feeling. I will sooner spend my time admiring and experiencing grand jealousy toward the accomplishments of others than pursue those very realistic accomplishments myself.
What I had, the person I lost, there was something bubbling inside him that reeked of absolute potential. I'm not sure I have the energy to build myself up to that point ever again. After all, it nearly killed me the first time.