Saturday, May 23, 2015

Anecdotal Experience

Had an experience in the grocery store this morning which hearkens back to the concepts posited in my mentally exhausted posting last night.

After picking up a few things and heading to the register, the cashier finished her scanning and came up with her total. She was an older woman, but based on her choice and application of makeup she was desperately trying to hang on some semblance of youth (I suspect because she feels young, as if her life has still yet to start). "Your total is $19.83... I was in high school that year". Not prompted for the latter portion of the statement at all, she uttered the words with depressed disappointment. I kindly paid and smiled, moving to be on my way.

Before I made it out the door the woman behind me made it up to the register. Greetings between the two were shared, then the woman behind me proudly proclaimed, "My tax return finally came in so I'm buying myself some real food!"

The register woman mirrored the joy and excitement.

This is where I live. This is who the new middle class American is. This is what it is to be blue collar today. We are the Working Poor.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A 28 Year Old's Perception

(Having just finished writing this out, do understand it is strictly stream of thought and I've stumbled over my words enormously with generalization and hyperbole. It was simply a train of thought that needed open release lest it fester into something worse as the night wore on. So please, do read, and leave your thoughts on the subject, but understand I may very well not be nearly as subscribed to these notions as my elaborate monologue might indicate. Thank you.)


No matter how well off I may be doing relative to the economies of the town in which I live and city to whom I'm near, I feel decidedly mired in the same relative degree of idle misery as everyone around me.

Pardon me as I run down a tangential thought that struck as I pulled into my garage this evening.

The mean, median, and mode incomes of denizens in the Nation that often lauds itself as being the richest and most immediately swelling with growth and opportunity are wildly separated from those people most noted for making such egalitarian statements. Glen Burnie is my home town, a very blue collar town, much as Baltimore is notorious historically for being a blue collar city. And much like anything historically stamped with the label "Blue Collar", both suffer, their people suffer, from a marked disconnect from what modern times have labeled valuable economically. This region was the powerhouse of industry. Industry no longer possesses value.

Blue collar workers of old, a generation born into companies with clear ethics, morality, and a sense of responsibility for their workers, retired into pensions and satisfying retirement funds, with houses paid for and, today, their children pushed out into what they think is still their world (the one of good jobs with gracious wages for those with steadfast work ethic). But that is not the world of today. That is not the world anymore. We are a generation born of an overpopulated species in a world keen on automation and digital transference (neither of which are inherently bad things in and of themselves). Jobs of old no longer exist. Companies no longer care for their flock. An admirable notion of independence and self reliance entered our rhetoric and our culture, but decades of consumerist leanings allocated nearly all the resources with which to do so in the pockets of an immensely small band of individuals who felt compelled to push their own capabilities and capacity for "winning" so far as to leave all the world at enormous detriment. Not only people of this Nation (of which, comparatively speaking, even the poor do well for themselves), but of all Nations, of all people. And there is no meaningful avenue by which these individuals can undo this damage without enduring significant harm themselves. They are stuck with a global perception as villains whether or not they intended wrongdoing or merit the label. We are stuck dealing with the world in a lesser state than it was when we were born.

I look around every day and observe distractions. People of the former blue collar caste, I'll refer to us as the "Working Poor", are drawn to distractions like LED lit bug lamps. From our cell phones to our video games to our television (or Netflix, these days) to the unfortunate condensed world of Web 2.0 governed by Facebook and BuzzFeed and Twitter, the only saving grace with which we have been left in this post-wealth society is a bounty of distractions fed forth by cheap technology. We will never afford a vacation to Europe or experience sunset in the Sahara. But we will see a picture of it on Flickr and pin it to Pinterest. A Nation populated by those who would live vicariously at all times.

Most individuals are simple. Like any species, our brains operate on evolved logic patterns and we can be cognitively "gamed" to tame the unrest that festers in a population saturated with boredom. This is not to say most individuals are stupid, that is itself another relative judgment given the variety of peoples' inherent strengths and weaknesses. I make the statement simply to indicate that there are those of us for whom the game does not work. Whether actively or passively due to irritation, the distractions are shunned, mentally ousted, or simply ignored. And for us unrest is a daily struggle that seems a thing forever unsatisfied in a climate of complacency. Most individuals, aware of the failed state of our lots in life and misfortune of our place in the societal timeline, will seek the passing distraction to afford some contentment in their lives. But for us there is no ample distraction, only the enduring, excruciating idleness of our lives, no matter what mechanisms we employ to overcome the very low glass ceiling.

My affinity for the photographic documentation of abandoned properties, especially the industrial, is very tied to this sense of unrest. Unlike any other activity, simply experiencing the asbestos ridden rotting husks of old industry was enough to leave me satisfied, in tune and at peace with the state of things although nothing had directly been changed. To this day I walk away from blighted properties with the thought that everything will be alright, no matter how bad things come crashing down. But these are buildings with which I have no history, locations in which I have not previously developed memories while they were still in heavy operation. Anymore I drive down the roads of my town and see stores and strip malls with vacancy signs and a number to call to lease the property. The Nation's first shopping mall in Harundale was closed down years ago, transformed today into a grocery store and Burlington Coat Factory. Marley Station Mall is still marred by a long abandoned 3-story department store addition and the entire wing where First National Bank used to be, the place I opened my first bank account 14 years ago, is completely empty. Glen Burnie Mall is in much the same state, and despite a face lift on the side facing the road, the rear entrances and parking lots of the property show the real state of things, with grass growing from the sidewalk and a busted up Toys-r-Us sign. This is all in a 5 mile strip north and south of where I live. Everything gone. Everything abandoned. Broken. Our potential is gone. And we all know it, but, as a majority, we simply stare into the soothing LED void in our palms, like an optically ingested heroin (drugs are another matter altogether around here).

Anymore I'm not sure if I'm sick and tired of us all being so hopelessly broken or sick and tired of being surrounded by the hopelessly broken. As I stated in the beginning of this post (vaguely), I am arguably successful beyond the mean, median, and mode denizens of my own hometown, but for sake of an odd perception of guilt and fear that leaving this area behind is most akin to abandoning any sense of compassion, I stay. But I am at a new point in my life, finally, no longer wishing to idolize permanent brokenness and wanting to achieve more, attain more, become more. And I feel guilty even entertaining the thought that my home town demographics, the aura of the place I've called home for decades, could ever possibly be an anchor in the calculations I make in how to push just a little farther ahead. I would rather see a rally, a shock to the system, a home brewed renaissance that restores the glory of places I grew up in, places with a history. The long shot hope of every blue collar town today.

When the promise and opportunity of the world dried up as my generation first entered adulthood, we still held onto a sense of community, involvement, we went out and did things. As things got worse, we retreated because the world could not harm us more so long as we stayed shuttered within the walls of whatever run down apartment we called home. We're still shuttered behind those walls, no matter how much nicer they may have become over time. We still don't risk the world, living it vicariously with LED heroin. Assuming anyone other than the offspring of those who have collected wealth ever impact the world again, maybe then we will finally be able to risk the world again. But much like the rich hold onto their wealth, we hoard what we have as safely as we can from those who might tempt its surrender and will do so until we're either dead or it hemorrhages from under us like a bleeding wound. A very lightly nicked artery.

We were meant for more than this.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Mobile" Photography

My trip in Colorado last weekend really saw the quiet, underlying affinity I have for mobile sharing metastasize in a fun way. For a long time my biggest dislike in the greater photographic process has been the post-process. In the context of outings with specific images in mind, sure, it makes sense to run through Lightroom and DXO and Photoshop until the image looks precisely how I want, but when you're snap shooting at an event or venue with no higher art considerations in mind it's horribly taxing to then be saddled with the chore of curating, editing and uploading. It may be that my baseline for the minimum standards of how an image looks after edited and how it is shared upon upload has spoiled the process for me. I tend not to like batch edits or the application of presets, yet I dislike images until they've been treated with specific attention to detail, and even then once that attention is given I'm still extremely likely to discard it for not measuring up to a higher standard. It's a rare thing that I'm ever able to quiet that inner demand and simply share.

That all goes out the window when it comes to editing and uploading while still in the field, however. My first experience publishing from the field was during the 2012 Raven's Superbowl Win Parade in Baltimore City. I picked up an Olympus PENPAL just before the parade, knowing that I wanted to rubber stamp "FIRST" on everything happening that day. And barring technical issues due to an antiquated tablet, it went swimmingly. RAW files quickly processed in-camera to a usable JPG, fired to the tablet and promptly uploaded to Facebook. Those quick, sloppy uploads had exactly the effect I wanted, and for a day I enjoyed the fleeting sensation of being a veritable fame monster.

Since that event, however, I haven't dabbled nearly as much in mobile uploads. In 2014 I regularly bombed a convention's Flickr page to get my photos up on their monitor's live feed of the event, but returning home I promptly took them down because... well, they looked awful. Nowhere near my typical standard, and having them published to Flickr felt like a compromise to the integrity of the portfolio I treat my Flickr page as these days. The catch in that, however, is that they only looked bad to me on my computer monitor. On the lobby TV screen, on a cell phone, they looked fantastic, and really that is the de facto standard display medium on which people are going to view any image today. For better or for worse, the display medium has lowered the bar, and at least in my case the only interruption to a steady flow of on-the-spot, mobile phone edited works being thrown up to my Flickr gallery is an almost arbitrary concept of minimum quality that nobody else seems to share. Honestly, it's probably holding me back more than I care to admit even when admitting it to begin with.

Lately that conceptual barrier has been breaking down, though. Instagram, social media juggernaut that it is, quickly appealed to me for sake of its relative ease and simplicity in content sharing. More so, it's an almost exclusively phone-based medium, nearly guaranteeing the content uploaded is seen on a cell phone screen and thus not nearly as revealing to quality flaws that would otherwise have me gnashing teeth. Snapseed has proven to be both a fun and remarkably powerful editing tool. Anymore, I'm wondering why I bother with the begrudged Lightroom grind, wherein the standard set by a large, calibrated monitor spoil my ability to enjoy my own photography. And that's really what it's supposed to be about, isn't it? What's the point in practicing photography if you aren't enjoying your own work?

Armed with the E-M1 today, it's not even a conscious thought to throw shots to my phone for quick edits via WiFi. Lately, that passive practice has resulted in a strangely complete catalog of my trips to breweries, renditions of artistic photography I like better than the Lightroom edits later produced, and significantly more complete timeline of my life than I ever expected to assemble.




Arbitrary standards of quality be damned. I had more fun in the experiences surrounding the above 7 photos than in the hours of labor I'd have otherwise spent trying to turn shit into gold with ISO 5000. That is the definitive differentiator in these two workflow methodologies, the traditional geared toward optimal print quality and the mobile geared toward immediate sharing of content. For me, at least right now, I garner happiness from the mobile process, whereas the other has rarely come without compulsion driven by copious amounts of depressed and lonely drinking beforehand.

That's been the trick as of late, finding avenues in which I can indulge my compulsion to photograph without inevitably coming to a point of misery staring at a catalog of images and experiences I'll never have adequately shared. For a long time I've been distracted by the pointless numbers game of the web, trying to maximize favorites and page views or likes or upvotes. I recognize the pointlessness, the fruitlessness of such superficial attention, but being raised on video games it may as well be ingrained in my behavioral centers to always seek the high score. I recall watching a documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters", following an historic rivalry between celebrated champions of the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The greater takeaway I had from that documentary dealt with the degree to which competitive nature eliminated the capability of enjoyment in what was difinitively an enjoyable distraction. More often than not these days I see myself going down that road, and I'm trying desperately to sidestep my competitive nature and simply revel in the enjoyment of photography for the fulfilling pleasure that it is.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Colorado is for Snowing

Made a weekend trip to Colorado to visit a good friend whom I originally helped move out to Denver about 2 years back. He'd made his way to the East Coast many times, visiting family and friends to the point of being broke from airfare. I felt he deserved some reciprocation.

Colorado is notorious for two things weather related - It is sunny with blue skies 300 days of the year, and seasons mean nothing when it comes to weather patterns. The Rockies create almost randomly chosen climate systems at any given time. The weekend of my trip Colorado decided it was time for snow.

I suppose most people would begrudge the forces of nature on their vacations should they not opt to cooperate with the arbitrary ideal of sunny and 75 degrees. Personally, I don't think the weather could have been any more incredible. I'll take the uniqueness of inclement conditions over the predictable safety of the sunny-75 rule any day.

In total it was a fantastic weekend. The perfect sort of relaxed escape with no pressure in regard to expected activities or obligations to "see this" or "do that". Hell, we spent a good portion of time lazing about my friend's apartment watching movies and TV series. Friday we hit up a small dozen breweries in Denver and a hookah lounge (where I have discovered that, since kicking the habit some time ago, my body cannot tolerate actual smoke at all anymore). Saturday we toured the mountain passes leading through Golden Gate, south near Colorado Springs and then returning back North toward Boulder. More time spent driving around than stopping for hikes given the weather, but I couldn't have been more content playing passenger to such a wonderful sightseeing trip.

A great experience, with the paradigm of my publishing process having quite silently switched comfortably to lots of mobile broadcast of images taken during the visit. Perhaps a topic for another post more meaty in wordage. For now, I just want to share a few of my favorites with you of snowy Colorado on a lazy Saturday afternoon.