Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Anecdotal Thought

How odd is it, in this age of free video hosting on the likes of YouTube and Vimeo, with the prevalence of podcasts and parallax web articles, that anyone, anyone, would choose a forum so basic as a bare bones HTML blog as their preferred conduit through which to share experience, expand upon introspection... To tell a story?

I'm frequently wondering if my stubborn reluctance to embrace the gracious provisions of Web 2.0 isn't somehow biting me in the butt. And alas... here I am, pontificating on the matter in that same "basic bitch" blog. Silly, right?

An emboldened part of me detests the idea of any pursuit not immediately graced with direct financial boons. And Web 2.0 certainly demands an enormous sort of personal investment, and far from a surefire pocket of unrealized success, it is a gamble of a thing, dependent on the inconsistency of content consumers to realize any potential of "virility". Suffice to say it is... a bad investment.

And yet a relative unknown started a Facebook page doing candid portraits and aligning them with wordage which may or may not have been the stories of those persons photographed.

Another, significantly darker, element at play is a wonder if my concept of vanity could ever be quieted enough these days to indulge those stories people would prefer to hear... The stories of other people. I am quite the narcissistic fuck these days.

Case and point...

... I have no idea who this girl is. We spoke at length at Grand Central this past Friday. Spoke to the point of cordial comfort, to the point at which she felt absolutely comfortable with me photographing her, even with the awful light, even despite the fact she was drunk and incapable of keeping both eyes open at the same time (let alone either eye open at all). I recall that she unraveled herself upon my verbal invitation, unraveling myself (which should not be considered a fair trade, ever, when dealing with the proudly unraveled). And yet I can't remember a goddamn thing she told me. I was not nearly as drunk as this (otherwise elated) young woman. Somehow I suspect she came away from the conversation, in her inebriated state, with far more insight and context to share than I.

Todd, my boyfriend, mentioned to me the other day that I used to come home from working assignments with long, developed, stories on those for whom I'd just assisted with my particular skill set. The people mattered, and even if it drove him to a bored eye roll amid my ramblings, the humanist enthusiasm persisted as a positive influence. He mentioned this because I don't often speak in such fond, enthusiastic reminisce so much these days.


Frankly, I'm quite tired of my defining narrative arc being that of tragedy and conflict and struggle. More frankly, I'm not even certain that concept ever translated through my work as an artist, in my years of photographic work, certainly not in my intermediary lulls as an illustrator. I've spent a substantial span of my most formative living years attempting to spin a narrative onto which others could identify and latch onto, and yet here I am, at least 5 years into that narrative's commercial realization, and could not feel less confident about the actualizing potential of those efforts. Most frequently, I find myself pondering if I have not actually been forcing a design of self with such ferocity that I am now, perhaps, a terrible person for it. No time allocated for friendships, no time allocated for family, no time for loved ones, no time for construction of relationships, no time for maintenance of relationships (I italicize that final point because it is absolutely the most poignant to me as I rabidly consume people, consume relationships, like an extraction industry resource, strip mining every last benefit of friendship before ultimately growing tired and bored and moving onto the next pool of emotional wealth).

The cliche of my childhood, the archetypal "bad guy", was always that of the great Free Market Capitalist. Always posturing, always dominating. But in the end, whose end goals left him, logically, alone.

I am Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty... and despair.

M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2

Back in the good ol' Nikon days (before the spoiling of creative thought through awareness of technical process), I had a lens which, once mounted to the plastic wonder that was the D40x, never really came off again during the remaining 3 years of its service. The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX, a gem of an optic for $200. Feels like I've found the M. Zuiko equivalent in the 25mm f/1.2 from Olympus, though at a $1200 price tag it's blatantly in a different class. However, time and experience has cemented the limitations of cheaper high speed prime lens optics (a la M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.8), and while I would readily swap out the cheaper M. Zuiko with the likes of the 17mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8 for variety, I'm fairly certain an act of congress would be required to see me switch out this new breed of Olympus PRO prime for another optic. To a degree, it has me rethinking the entirety of my assemblage of kit.

What to say about this new lens... well, on the whole, it's assisted in a return to the point of working with prime lenses, or at least their function as I divined from a dedicated workflow with them interrupted only in the last 2 years with Olympus' M. Zuiko PRO line of zooms (optics which proved to be more uprooting of the creative process than I ever expected). Prime lenses have always played to the strengths of limitation, forcing the unconventional approach in the creation of a strong image in the absence of technical flexibility (ie. no zoom). For years I embodied the prime lens ethos, camera bag packed with naught but the 12mm f/2.0, 17mm f/1.8, and 45mm f/1.8, a wonderful trio mated to the EP3 of the time. But with the introduction of the PRO line, decently fast and markedly sharper f/2.8 zooms, especially in focal lengths fitting the work I was doing, I struggled to maintain that ethos, its appeal having waned in the face of superior optics with the technical flexibility to facilitate a simpler workflow for business shoots. The sacrifice part and parcel with this transition was diminished drive toward creative thinking, the lack of challenge otherwise presented by the limited scope of function with prime lenses.

Enter this new breed of prime optic, with fidelity on par with (if not superior to) those PRO zooms... quantifiable metrics of the image are no longer sacrificed in the indulgence of a prime-based workflow, and unlike the Lumix 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron, this 25mm draws me into things to photograph them intimately as opposed to stepping back to make sense of a scene in context (or get focus when the subject is in arm's reach).

This new 25mm f/1.2 will focus close. Perhaps not macro close, but certainly close enough to permit elimination of the periphery as a visual consideration. Paired with the desperately thin depth of field, I feel more capable of isolating subjects with this lens. A caveat of the Micro Four Thirds system is its greater depth of field equivalency for sake of its much smaller format, and resultantly even out of focus backgrounds, no matter the working distance, can often be too structurally defined so as to be distracting. The focus falloff simply isn't "fast" enough, even at f/1.8. While this technical limitation is certainly still a factor at play with the 25mm f/1.2, it strikes me as that much less of a problem, as if the threshold necessary for longer focus falloff to no longer introduce issue hides in this sweet spot of f/1.2 (mind you, that is entirely subjective analysis, and not quantifiable in the least... it is my perception).

Perhaps appropriately in line with the aesthetics afforded by the season and commonly chosen decor, an element of the image I've often ignored has become a focus in the last week, namely the manipulation of bokeh.

This lens wants to be shot wide open. Much like the Nocticron, it sees no perceptual (technical) benefit to being stopped down, however, unlike the Nocticron, the "mood" of the image does not change as the f-stop creeps up. Thus, with the Nocticron, aperture can be used as a dictator of mood (the contrast profile changes dramatically), whereas the M. Zuiko knows its rendition well and does not waver. Sunlight be damned, it knows where its value resides and pleads for use of ND filters or polarizers or a 1/32,000" electronic shutter before the consideration of stopping down enters the arena (and even then, it may make more sense to play high key and overexpose).

I'm unsure if Olympus plans to release future PRO primes. Similarly, I'm unsure if I want to run the risk of polluting my ecosystem with new optics anymore, not without very legitimate use cases in mind. It has taken a concert of influences over this past year to so much as hint to returning to a creative zen, ranging from new tools, to modified workflows, to abandoned workflows, to indulging other mediums, to relearning that it's actually, truly, okay to not be relentlessly creating something. At the moment, in this current environment, my head space is sustainable. I look forward to the next icy morning to photograph dead branches. I look forward to the next rain to photograph oily puddles.

It's nice to look forward, for once.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


There is nothing better than taking steps outside your own head space and discovering subtleties of a world going on otherwise unbeknownst to you.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Back in 2014, Towson-local band All Time Low's guitarist, Jack Barakat, jumped into co-ownership of the previously titled Vale Tudo (known as Cheerleaders before that), to redraw the aesthetic of the bar to focus strictly on varieties of rock & roll (as opposed to the "iPod on shuffle" variety making the venue's appeal very hit or miss).

Kevin, Rob, and I stopped in this past Wednesday night after dinner, figuring we'd grab a round of drinks and enjoy the entertainment of the night. Silly us, it was a Wednesday night... nobody goes to a club on a Wednesday night. But, being stubborn people, we went in anyway and wound up having a neat conversation with the bartender/manager that night, going over the details of the venue's ownership and occasional nightmares of its maintenance (case and point, the projectors splashing the cool effects on the canvas wall panels burn out at least twice a year, and require rental of a skyjack that barely fits through the door to replace the bulbs).

Once upon a time, a monthly tradition was for different artists being showcased on the projector panels in special events. I'm rather disappointed I missed my chance with this venue. It would have been pretty fantastic as a time lapse showcase. Perhaps in its next iteration... The half-life of club venues rarely extends beyond the first 2 or 3 years without a shuffle in ownership and/or aesthetic. It's the nature of the business.

It is Cold Outside

I've aimed to write a review of the Olympus M. Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 PRO fisheye lens, but haven't actually taken anything remarkable with it as of yet, nor attacked images with labored processing in Lightroom (plenty with Snapseed on the phone, however). It's a great optic, but the weather hasn't been the most optimal for creatively considered stress testing (and somehow I don't suspect I'll get the kind of use I see it really shining in until the Milky Way returns to the sky on this hemisphere in the Summer).

Otherwise I've just been thinking about my focus, my end goals, which is to say I don't really have any but am trying to align to something. In a curious interaction, my high school statistics teacher messaged me to suggest that I focus more on people, specifically the people of Baltimore. In his words, my work has a "melancholy" which reflects the "tone of an aging Baltimore", and while the architecture and landmarks I photograph may look pleasant, they're ultimately page-turners, but the faces of people in and around those regions would reflect a missing human element. I'm rather inclined to agree with him, considering the strong interest in portrait work and incorporating people in my photos back in 2012 and 2013. That's definitely a theme that dropped off. Not for lack of interest or even lack of taking photos of people, but definitely lack of mental bandwidth to process them and develop a solid, themed series. I will never not blame the business for being the catalyst of massive creative burnout.

I recall the path forward so many years ago being a stubborn doubling down, even when I thought my time had been stretched to the limit. I've since stretched further, always expecting new limits to be normalized and stretched again. That remains my expectation. Always somewhere in life where some time can give, even if only for a little while. The greatest balancing act.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


There's something about party lights and fog that is endlessly appealing.

Just a few snaps from an idle night some weeks back, listening to remarkable music on remarkably clear high end speakers, playing with technique.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Context to Earlier

To afford some context to my morning rambling of regret over returning the RX10 Mark III, it's shot like the above where I anticipated its most logical application. Tripod work, long exposure, likely at night, stopped down a good bit to produce clean single captures of a scene, maybe even going as far as to run them in an interval for even cleaner composites. The sort of time invested, laborious work that I haven't applied myself to nearly enough in the past months, let alone the past year. The kind of work I did in the very beginning, running around at all hours of nightfall with an old Coolpix E8700 and cheap plastic Ritz branded tripod (I think they became the Sunpak 'disposables' found in every Best Buy these days).

One camera, one tripod, and a singular focus. I rather miss those days.

I was reading an article by Ming Thein this morning as well, elaborating on the odd way that as we mature in our practice of photography, it becomes harder and harder over time to create an image fitting of self-applied standards of 'good enough'. As pointed out in the article, this isn't necessarily a measure of whether the image is otherwise very good, technically solid and compositionally competent, but a measure of whether it adequately pushes barriers and breaks new ground on a personal level. It's a high level barrier I've felt myself pressing up against for the past few years, and my response to it, more often than not, has been creative hibernation, evident in the significantly reduced compulsion to publish any work, let alone photograph new material of any personal significance.

Most often, I perceive the issue being a technical one, but not in the way one might conventionally think. My tools are remarkably competent and adequately diverse, certainly to the degree that they do not present a technical barrier. Rather, it comes down to choice paralysis, and the irrational compulsion to equip a bag for a variety of subjects for the 'what if' scenarios (that inevitably come when one does not equip to confront them). Thus the value proposition of the RX10 Mark III was in its one-stop solution for deliberate tripod work. Which, unfortunately, is hard to keep in focus when vacillating between motivated states of mind (such as tonight) and depressed, muse-be-damned lethargy.

I recall telling myself upon returning the Sony that running with any combination of my Olympus equipment made just as much sense and to kick myself into gear when the muse again struck, bite the bullet, and simply run with what I already had and knew. And yet, at the same time, I knew I wouldn't. Whether from being dropped so many times or an optical quality issue otherwise inherent in the lens, the 12-40mm f/2.8 which closest fits the perspectives I seek in night shooting just sucks. It's soft, not unsharp, but certainly an optic geared for portraits, for people. The 7-14mm f/2.8 is better, however it's far too wide for what I seek. And if it weren't for being stolen, the 40-150mm f/2.8 is too long in most cases. Perhaps the saving grace would be the yet-to-be-attained 12-100mm f/4, but I would actually have to acquire it first, and even then the inherent issue would be not wanting to carry a system camera for casual landscape work with a low profile being the intent. Abstracts of an irrational creative brain.

The greatest mistake is conceding to the assumption that any piece of equipment needs to cover all possible use cases. It's just not the case. I justified returning a steal of an acquisition for its failure to apply to use cases for which it was never designed. Now I'm left regretting the shots I won't take because my primary kit doesn't fit them either.

Irrational thinking is frustrating.

Morning Musing on the One That Got Away (Willingly)

Last month Rob and I drove out to Best Buy on an idle night to... do something, I can't entirely remember. Probably aiming to preview an item to later be purchased online, as is the case with a majority of peoples' big box store visits these days. Unlike the majority of Best Buy stores, this one had a particularly robust camera department, replete with such relative obscurities as Canon's XC10, EOS M line, and Olympus products. So, naturally, we gravitated into the swelling black hole of things to spend money on like well trained consumers.

At the time, I frequently praised the likes of the Sony RX10 series of cameras for their one-stop-shop value proposition, particularly in a period marked by general disgust with the weight and quantity of items I'd otherwise be required to bring along to even hope to replicate the versatility. Out of curiosity, I name dropped the model to a store rep (who happened to be versed in journalism in his younger years and had a surprisingly mature concept of the value and function of cameras), and sure enough he had an RX10 Mark III. But not only that, it was an open box item, $400 off. And... AND... he offered to drop the price another $200, rendering the camera nearly 50% off. How could I not pick it up?

I probably farted about the store trying to conjure a valid use case for an hour to justify picking the thing up, eventually having a "f*** it" moment and diving in. But I had no immediate use case. I had jobs the next day, and no time to actually put the thing through its paces, so naturally, I let my reflexive buyer's remorse get the better of me and returned the (50% off!!!) RX10 Mark III on my way home from working shoots. I took maybe a dozen shots of pigeons at my apartment with the thing, getting a feel for it in the hands. And it was a joy of a tool to use, but because it didn't immediately fit into a fixed methodology my rejection was decided.

Today, I'm feeling a good bit of regret for returning the thing.

It's possible that, in the end, the camera would not have fit into a sensible or enjoyable workflow, but I never gave it a chance, and I especially never put it through its paces. Smaller sensor, sure, but not that much smaller than the Micro Four Thirds sensors to which I'm otherwise committed. No, it was a weak moment in which I faced a challenge to established practices and instead of embracing the new and reshaping myself to work with the new tool I submitted to an instinctive rejection. I've found myself, on more than one occassion, wishing I still had the camera handy in the car for moments when I witness a great landscape for which its available focal lengths and resolution would work perfectly. Instead, I'm driving past such shots, because I'm habitually committing the cardinal sin of photography these days and not bringing a camera. Cell phone be damned.

My resistence to the RX10 Mark III was largely couched in the idea of it presenting system overlap in the acquisition of the Olympus M. Zuiko 12-100mm f/4, which I had initially committed myself to but am now vascillating for... unknown reasons. Maybe size (not that the RX10 Mark III was particularly small or light either). Maybe general disgust with carrying so much sh*t all the time. Or, maybe, that's just not where the muse is roaming in the moment, because it goes wherever it wants, whenever it wants, and I'm not particularly great at anticipating its direction.

So, instead of anything that makes sense to my current brain, I ordered the M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 and 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye lenses. The 25mm f/1.2 makes sense from the standpoint of what I like to idly shoot when otherwise uninspired, pictures of beer, mid-range portraits, stuff I'm not interested in shooting right now while it's foggy out and I want to shoot landscapes. The 8mm should be fun for conventions, and January this year should be action packed with trips to Delaware, Boston, and the National Harbor for party and event shooting. I'm calling them my Christmas gift to myself, but right now... I feel like an RX10 Mark III would fit that bill way better. Alas, I already passed up that crazy deal, and now I get to eat regret as a dietary staple.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


A thought occurred to me on the drive home from a shoot today, a rationalization in attempt to explain my standoffish and insulated lifestyle as of late.

Photography as a hobby or an artistic exercise notwithstanding, the lifestyle of photography, an attitude removing oneself as an influence or even participant in events whilst taking part in their experience, has a strange sort of social cost. Removing oneself, cognitively if not realistically, and adopting the third-person-omniscient narrators perspective, is a trained instinct which inevitably bleeds into the personal human experience. In the lifestyle of photography, one's focus is wholly on others stories, or the stories surrounding the photographer. Over time, functioning as little more than record keepers with no particularly defined narrative outside an event or assignment, we completely lose sight of our own story, to the point where there may be no story left to tell, no underlying passion or driving element, no real substance to our function. As the storytellers, and especially among the best storytellers, we are not allowed to have overtly stated stories of our own lest we color the narrative with our bias.

Over this past year, with business shrinking and free time once again becoming a regular occurrence in my calendar, it dawns on me that I have no narrative of my own. I used to, and wrote with some frequency on the subject, but today I struggle to define any specific motivator driving me, a goal on which to focus. In telling others' stories, I stopped having one of my own, and lacking in this self-driven interest my pool of friends has dwindled along with the body of ancillary hobbies which used to affix my attention in relaxed periods. Today, I can't relax. Time available to ruminate is time spent panicking over how to deal with ruminating. It's a strange quandary.

Recently my boyfriend introduced me to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and the concept which most stood out to me was Sonder, the realization that every other person is experiencing a life as vivid and complex as your own, the realization that all people have deep and intricate stories of their own. The concept resonates with me, and I honestly believe it's an epiphany that would benefit more people to recognize in their daily lives. I find myself wondering, however, if there are others such as myself meandering through the ether, the story-less ones, far too affixed to dissecting the narratives of others to have formed a narrative of their own. To realize that lack of personal narrative may be a new obscure sorrow to explore.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Drinks and Snapseed

I'm fairly well committed at this point to the notion that my old RAW workflow is frustratingly untenable and any viable future enjoyment of the photographic process will ultimately involve a mobile editing platform. Mainly my phone. Maybe a tablet. The point is, with the print image being such a niche end goal, and with the vast majority of my photographic work never being done with the intent to print to begin with, I need to suck it up and stop worrying about the pixel level end quality of my images and just publish them.

This past week I've actively been streaming photos on my personal Twitter, and it's been a publishing paradigm I've enjoyed using, even if the analytics aren't there in the same capacity as Flickr (analytics are there, but reading different data). I'm finding it even more enjoyable and low overhead than Instagram, possibly because it's not a photography geared platform. That's the point anymore, I think. Disengaging from photography as a subculture, and simply maintaining it as an ancillary to the true end goal of storytelling. Group bombing on Flickr and slaving away at a laborious RAW workflow stand in the way of storytelling.

Additionally, I'm fairly well committed to drinking. Not for drinking's sake, mind you, I just like photographing beer and cocktails. And while I'm relatively sure that most people don't care, I do, and I would like to share some drinks with you.

Waverly Brewing Company

Rob, Kevin, and I found this brewery by accident wandering Baltimore. It's since become a favorite haunt, with very casual staff who will shoot the shit with you at the bar because they're in it for the beer well above the business.

This brew, 83 North, is named after the JFX highway running just across the street and atop pylons lifting the asphalt out of the Jones Falls waterway. A dry hopped American IPA, it's an Autumn beer with every hallmark trait of a bold IPA.

Ain't That Right, Boo is a fun October seasonal continuing the tradition of prior years, brewing flavorful ales with sugary cereals. Blueberry puree dumped into the mix kicks up the fruity bite, coming off like a dry wine (not at all like a porter, as the cereal base of this brew originally had me thinking in the notional context of cereal with milk).


Kevin introduced Rob and I to this spot after venturing there on a date. It has the sort of speakeasy atmosphere I personally appreciate, dimly lit by little more than candlelight, and staff which is more than enthusiastic about touching up the finer details of a cocktail for art, for flavor, and, when they notice the camera, for photos. I'm not typically a cocktail guy, but with this place I readily make an exception.

Amarosa. Tragically, I can barely begin to describe the variety of flavor notes in each cocktail. They are remarkably complex drinks, some holding heavy smoke from scotch, others cleverly spiced with cracked pepper.

Streets of Guadalajara. What I do wind up remembering clearly (a surprise when imbibing heavy spirits) is conversation. Even at its busiest, the atmosphere is such that everyone speaks softly, unlike bars blasting loud music and thus encouraging shouting matches to overcome the relentless auditory submersion. Simply put, it's easy to vacillate between introspective rumination, momentary epiphany, and then a verbalized idea.

Bird Dog. At some point, inevitably when drinking, you just start saying things without thinking about it. For some folks, that's an invitation to belligerence. My experience tends to be more subversive, the statement of facts in a specific order or endorsement of concepts not actually held, baiting for a reaction or response leading to its own advantageous insight. Admittedly, I have no idea why I do this. More often than not, it is masturbatory, reinforcing things I more or less already know about people.

Damn Daniel. The best nights, though, are those in which the application of social lubricant enables confession. And my most liberating confession was confidently stated on the stoop just outside Sugarvale a few months back. "I have sucked the joy from everything I love". I mentioned this confession before, but it remains a kickoff point for mental breakdown and rebuilding. Without that openly stated admission, even if just to the air, I would never developed complacency with the idea that my business might fail, but that I am actually entirely okay with that thought.

Now for the fluff. I want to order the M. Zuiko PRO 25mm f/1.2, but it's constantly out of stock and that annoys me tremendously. Many of these booze photos were taken with its baby sister lens, the 25mm f/1.8, and I appreciate the focal length, the nature of its focus falloff at reasonably close working distances. Suppose I'm falling back into the same sort of imaging appeals as experienced back in the Nikon days with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX. Arguably the benefits of the f/1.2 don't necessarily justify the $1200 expense, but while I'm still recording a profit in the business this year, even after replacing stolen goods... what the hell, why not?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We Still Choose Love

Olympus OMD E-M1 paired with the Nocticron DG 42.5mm f/1.2, shot wide open at ISO 1600 for 1/125" exposure.

I would like to say I have a more formed and elaborately thought out post recounting the experiences of the last 7 days. I don't.

As simply as can be stated, over dinner with Rob, a protest made its way past our dinner table which we were both eager to join and document. And like prior experiences shadowing the Black Lives Matter protests marching through Baltimore some months ago, it went much the same, with great cooperation between police and organizers. Two individuals in the march were detained, but not charged. One antagonizer decrying the point of this march charged a protester with a knife, but was promptly subdued by police and charged in the attempted stabbing.

We spearheaded the march for 3 hours, leapfrogging it in spirited sprints to photograph the mass of people as it moved forward, then letting the body of the protest flow around us like water over a rock. The courtesy of the demonstration was amusing. In the thickness of the crowd, it was impossible not to step on someone's shoes or accidentally bump into a fellow marcher, but every accidental brush was met with a flurry of apologies for the transgression. Despite the native anger and frustration, everyone was keenly aware of everyone else, and careful to not stumble on courtesy in an otherwise discourteous event.

The march disbanded not long after we lost the stamina to continue following it. It was both a necessary outlet and reaffirmation that a very real body of our fellow human beings existed wholly invested in defending minorities such as ourselves, for immigrants, for blacks, every single queer identifying person under the umbrella. Necessary after the political affirmation of a platform built at least in part on the pandering of a body politic squarely against the civil rights of minority groups. And with the multitudinous numbers of us whose families ethically abandoned our safety, security, and citizenship in the United States, many of us needed the affirmation that an alternative family structure existed in the social fabric to support us in our orphaned state.

It's been a very complex 7 days. I don't suspect we will collectively parse our emotions any time soon.

Olympus OMD E-M1 paired with the Nocticron DG 42.5mm f/1.2, ISO 4000 and 1/125" exposure.
I envy the stubborn strength she wears on her face.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Open Doors Wandering

This past weekend I spent a breezy Saturday out with Rob, Bill, and Kevin, sharing in the fun that is the annual Open Doors Baltimore event, a casual opening of many architectural projects in Baltimore City ranging from the rehabilitation of the old mills of the city's northwest to showcase of completed renovation projects of downtown high rises. A relaxed day empty of obligation, just relaxed wandering with a loose agenda (and plenty of time to stop by a few breweries to grab a beer). I missed the event last year, but in 2014 it was the venue hallmarking my introduction to Rob, who is now my business partner in photographic work.

We shot a few locales as part of the event; Whitehall Mill off Falls Road, still a project in the works with construction underway in the lower levels that couldn't begin until flooding countermeasures were in place to combat the rains and swelling of the Jones Falls; 10 Light Street, and 1 South Street, both classic downtown high rises with preserved post-Baltimore-fire architecture. Most of our time was spent touring Whitehall, its largely barren lower levels giving off the same vibe one gets from abandoned buildings. The South Street stop ended up being the most enjoyable to me personally, with the building's architect on-site to tell the stories of its design and of the nuance in its construction.

Honestly, though... I favorite shots had nothing to do with sites showcased in the event.

Driving down from Whitehall, we parked just off The Block (notorious for its array of strip clubs right next to the Baltimore Police Department Headquarters) in view of a bus stop. We walked back and forth past it a couple times, walking between locations and for a stop at the coffee shop. The light in that space was interesting all through the sunset, with the glass facades of towering buildings casting every manner of light over each crack in the concrete. I felt like I could've stayed there and photographed it for hours, capturing the breadth of people and personalities that embody Baltimore. The real Baltimore, not the privileged oases of gentrified neighborhoods like Fells Point and Federal Hill.

The buildings surrounding the area, though not part of any architectural open house, were also captivating to me as the sun was setting.

Admittedly, I've been doing a lot of very basic architectural "up skirts". And typically they're not particularly compelling, but it's an accessible study of line and shape to indulge. Especially these days, with a number of parking garages with me seemingly on a black list for attempting photography off their balconies. It's getting more and more difficult to find a non-offending vantage from which to photograph and not trigger alarm. The ubiquity of the camera in a cellular time is only matched by the disdain of the layman toward the shape of the non-cellular imager.

The only other competing favorite of the day's crop was snapped in a parking warehouse on the walk to Whitehall Mill. A broken and rusty blue bike by a yellow plywood box. Simple.

It was an appreciated escape from more traditional trappings of subject and composition, to say the least. One of those ideal periods where the camera is an afterthought at best, and we are universally at our creative best when our tools disappear from the immediate picture.

No pun intended.

Remembering Good Times

Parked on an ideal overlook, nothing but the best company to indulge. Shot on the Olympus E-P3 paired with the M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/3.5 at 60" and ISO 200. Simpler times, simpler tools, easier focus.

Spent last night talking with a very close, very dear, friend who I haven't seen much of in the past couple years on account of his relocation to majestic (compared to the East Coast) Colorado. Ted. It's always a pleasure to engage him in conversation again, even though I wind up being a verbally befuddled mess with him over text messages. My mental agency inevitably regresses to my impressionable and scatterbrained early 20's whenever I engage with him, like a time capsule of developmental personality traits opened whenever we talk.

Hunting for things to write about today, I dove into the storied annals of my Flickr camera roll to get an idea of just what I'd been up to in past Octobers. Cruising the time wave back to 2012, I was pleasantly reminded of a damn fantastic trip he and I took down to Shenandoah National Park. Seems like I return there with some regularity anymore, deep down knowing that it's essentially a desperate reach to re-live the emotional bonds and states of mind discovered in those early, formative trips into the mountains with Ted.

I can't help but feeling, looking over those old photos, that I had a better sense of direction in those days. Suppose that's colored by the cognitive rose colored glasses of memory and nostalgia, but speaking strictly from the soberingly quantifiable analysis of my photos at the time, I was doing something different and can't for the life of me figure out how I ever had things so "figured out".

Rocks overlooking Shenandoah Valley proper. Shot on the Olympus E-P3 paired with the M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, f/4.0 at 60" and ISO 200. I am unyieldingly reminded of my oft overlooked passion for the square.

Frequently in our conversations, Ted remarks that he's never known someone so unyieldingly hard working as myself. I'm sure he means that statement with only the best intentions and encouragement, but particularly after hearing (reading) it last night, I couldn't help but incorporate the statement as a strong criticism of my unrelenting "battle rhythm" (damn corporate culture for coining this business lingo). He's certainly not the first person to indicate bewilderment that I manage to find time to breathe, but it's also not as poignant coming from anyone else. Ted happily confesses his experiences since moving out West have fostered a more hedonist (his words!) lifestyle. Meanwhile, I've doubled down on photography as my sole conduit of impact, sole hobby, the only thing from which to extract pleasure (and even then, the well is dry at times). Today, photography is integral, and I am incapable of imagining a version of myself not wholly driven by the pursuit of the image. It makes me wonder who I was, from Ted's perspective, before slowly narrowing my war path. I can't even turn my head enough to see where I came from anymore.

Sometimes the mountains feel alone, no matter who or what your company. Shot on the Olympus E-P3 paired with the M. Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, shot at f/2.0 and 1.3", ISO 200.

I'm working on plans to fly out and visit Ted next month. Of course there's lots of crap to deal with at the onset of the new month, but it's a trip that needs to happen. Basic needs for a vacation of some sort aside, time with him helps me refocus, remember who I am (which sounds stupidly cliche, but applies quite literally). It is entirely possible I would distill into a logical automaton if not for such critical influences snapping my attention back to the disorganized, frantic beauty of human impulse, intuition, and glorious, unbridled passion.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Getting Back to Normal

Possibly my favorite self-portrait. Olympus OMD E-M1 paired with the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8.

With the gallery finally closed and the remaining pieces either being sold off quietly in individual sales or donated to a variety of repeat clients as pleasant "thank yous", photo-life is slowly resuming the familiar cadence I'm accustomed to. For its part, and despite being a considerable failure from the standpoint of quantifiable metrics, the gallery left an impression of success in terms of what I aimed to accomplish. From a direct cost perspective, I broke even, but more importantly I engaged face-to-face with a wide variety of people both in and out of the Baltimore Art Scene, ideally to the effect of lifting me from the shadows of The Unknown and constructing an identifiable namesake.

On the less glamorous side of that experiential story, my car was broken into the Wednesday preceding closing ceremonies and some lucky fellow made off with my "working bag" chock full of expensive goodies like the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 and 40-150mm f/2.8, tripod, 10-stop ND filters, a whole assortment of things. Filed a police report (of course) but don't expect it to go anywhere. Insurance, however, did its job in supporting me financially through a catastrophic value loss, thus making such an unfortunate event less... well, catastrophic. My friends all came through in support as well, Rob going as far as to lend me his own copy of the 7-14mm f/2.8 and tripod for use in working shoots. In a neat sort of side deal, he had me design a tattoo for him, which saved him in the triple-digits on getting inked at the studio, paying me back with his little-used M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro lens which I can easily identify as being superior to the 40-150mm f/2.8 in photographing food. Somehow along the timeline of the week or two post-gallery, we apparently traded cameras, with Rob now wielding an EP5 (which he very much enjoys) and my own wheelhouse is now populated by twin EM1s. Weird how an otherwise ugly experience played out to the positive with time, patience, and stubborn refusal to panic. Certainly inspires appreciation for the support structure around me I don't always have awareness enough to acknowledge.

Contract shoots are flooding in once again, a trend I should be used to after 5 years of business data indicating Winter is (inexplicably) the busy season for real estate. Restaurant shoots are also crowding the calendar quickly, or at least the ones willing and able to get back to me with scheduling (still a deplorably low response rate, but getting better). But moving away from photography-as-work, I spent this past Saturday photographing in classic knee-jerk fashion out and about for Open Door Baltimore, the event Rob and I first became acquainted 2 years ago. And it was a fun afternoon once again, with some neat guided tours of otherwise inaccessible spaces, and lots of street shooting as we wandered from place to place throughout the day. Personally liberating.

The year is closing quickly, but that is no indication that things will slow down in the span of the next 2 months (quite the opposite). I believe one of my goals for the end of the year was to publish a proper portfolio website, which I am at least on the right track to complete, simply requiring a free afternoon to deal with the more mechanical aspects of web publishing. In general, however, I'd like to spend the next couple months publishing more substantive material on this forum when and where possible. Seems to be another quantified trend, my publishing schedule. Always plenty of time to ruminate when it's cold outside and the sun sets at 4:00PM.

At least lazing about with a laptop on the couch on Winter evenings I have bunny friends to keep me warm.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Figuring Out This Headspace

Olympus OMD E-M1 with M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 25" x 9 exposures at f/5.6 and ISO 200, composited.

I haven't been in the best head space for a long time, barring periodic breaks through suffocating mental clouds. Last month may very well have been the head of that storm. It's hard to want to engage anyone, anything. A lucrative month from the business perspective, sure, but weighted heavier toward the end of creative suicide than I've ever permitted before. Frankly, I feel prepared to let this business I've built atrophy, wither, and die. Time always has a knack for wearing down the glossy finish on new and interesting things, and for things as sterile and calculated as business, even a new coat of gloss doesn't hide the marring of the timeworn. Patina is strictly reserved for those things crafted with passion, the artful parts that oft look awkward next to the dispassion of genderless business.

Yesterday's quiet scream of a rant on GAS is indicative of this conflict of methodical logic and abstract inspiration. Of course one's tool don't matter assuming they are equally capable of producing the same outcome. Some tools, however, inspire the user to use them, and that's the point of a finely crafted tool. That is why I am in this ongoing phase, perpetually seeking a new camera. I don't like my tools, and I said as much not even a year ago. No matter how well they work, no matter how intimately familiar I am with their operation and nuances, I do not like my tools, and this will not change.

The business is battle worn, its gloss roughed and hazy as if by sandpaper, because I allowed it to accept other people's definition of what a photography business should be. When this experiment began, it was off a lucky break earned because my passion for interior stills photography was recognized. I've since let my "brand" encompass the greater breadth of the expected, the cliche, realms of weddings and maternity and a number of other categories I would struggle to exhibit less enthusiasm for. Sometimes those clients are fun, engaged, and I genuinely enjoy working with them. But that interpersonal amicability is not sufficient to endure work seemingly engineered to suck the very passion from your bones. Weddings in particular. They pay well, and my business income on "wedding months" is markedly higher, every time. And it is a compromise of my business integrity and respect of self every single time I accept a wedding job not because I'm enthusiastic about the work but because the money is good. It is a garbage way to operate, and it must stop if my brand of photography is to retain any integrity at all.

At least I recognize my mistake, why this year was marked by a sense of creative death. I knew my solution a year ago, knew what I wanted to do, the creative process that made sense and I was inspired to adopt. Before the PEN-F was even announced, I knew the conceptual handling of the Fuji X100T made the most sense to me, and I was ready to pick up a Dell Venue 8 7000, and mentally the gears were wound and ready to attack photography from a purely minimal, mobile platform. Travel light, focus on the experiential, and photograph candidly, processing and posting in the intermittent downtime that goes hand in hand with relaxed travel (or, hell, even sitting on my couch back home, since I despise sitting at my office computer, and will never not despise sitting at my office computer, ever). I knew exactly where my muse was leading me and I didn't move forward for sake of practicality and focusing on business investment, resulting in making no investments in the business this past year and feeling completely miserable about personal photography work. And it's too late to hop on that ship now, the X100T is nearing replacement with the newest X-Trans sensor (worth waiting for) and the Venue 8 7000 fell out of production earlier this year. At best I can wait and see if succeeding product release coincide next year, at which point I don't even know what my muse will be doing. It's been so long since I've seen inspiration in anything I could be staring my muse in the eyes and be incapable of recognizing it.

My most current new concept of "perfect" system is theoretical and insane. Fujifilm is digging into a place that is pulling my heartstrings taught. The GFX 50S is exactly what I want in a system designed for deliberate and calculated photography work. Paired with the proposed 23mm f/4, it would be the thing to lift my interior work to the next level by facet of reducing perspective distortions while still portraying an extremely wide scene, enabling a "look" you just can't get on smaller formats. And, honestly, that's about it with that system. It could be a fixed lens medium format system in that configuration and I'd be just as thrilled to pick it up (of course that is far too niche a system to ever make sense from a sales standpoint). The counterpoint to that medium format (baby) monster would be the theoretical X100F(?), with the same 23mm focal length lens, but producing a 35mm perspective under the constraints of the smaller format. Toss in a new tripod (my MeFoto Globetrotter is battle worn these days) and I feel remarkably comfortable with this proposed minimalist gear set. At the very least, I've gotten much more comfortable editing images on my phone, negating the perceptual need (want?) last year of the Venue 8 7000 tablet (and, of course, that would really only be for processing X100 shots... medium format photography would warrant desktop processing, and I'd do it gladly). But that's it, that's the sort of minimal disparity I feel compelled by in this moment, in this current market landscape, and I'm confident I could make stellar images with those tools genuinely exhibiting a different structure than what I've produced the last 6 years with Micro Four-Thirds imagers (not that they're bad or subpar, just that I've mastered them and am ready to move on to the next thing). Also important is the limitation of work potential with such a pared down system... I will not engage in weddings-as-work with such a system, thus negating any impulse to say "Yes" to such proposals under such a lack of technical capability. Back to basics. Back to what I know. Back to what I want to shoot, with unwavering focus.

This year hasn't been one of investment, but one of saving, of hoarding. Arguably, I'm in as good a spot as ever to hemorrhage business funds in the acquisition of such a different system. While I want to say I would hang onto the Micro Four-Thirds kit... I'm not sure. A strong part of me wants to see it vanish to allay any temptation to return to it, but another remembers selling off the old Nikon gear set so many years ago and rather regretting the choice. Speaking of the old Nikon gear, I think I'm seeing a pattern in my impulse to transition systems... and every 6 years doesn't seem so bad, really.

Tonight I wrap up the last of this season's wedding photos, forward them off and never speak of them again. Friday night my gallery is closing with a bang, party atmosphere encouraged. My head space is stable for the moment. Remind me to never again give merit to thoughts of practicality... there is no truer counter to progress and personal growth than a practical approach.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

GAS is the Stupidest Thing

Walking Baltimore, on the way to some quick pizza before staffing the gallery. Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, processed (puh) in Instagram for some quick black & white hazing.

I've been experiencing bad GAS today and it's highlighting obvious elements of habit you'd think more of us would've figured out by now.

For the first month all year, I'm in a financially superfluous spot and in the position to invest in myself (through gear) and perhaps introduce new capabilities (through gear) to my wheelhouse. Lots of new stuff was announced over Photokina, but what's the point in pre-ordering something now when it's still months out from delivery. I quietly gushed over the Pen-F about a year ago, and the damn thing is on sale right now. At a similar price point, the Fuji X100T has long kept me captive with curiosity, but with the X100F still expected next year, why invest in old tech now with new tech around the corner? Or skip the waiting and just grab an X-PRO2 and Fujinon 23mm f/2.0 WR, get the advantages now and have an upgrade path for later.

All of these ideas are completely goddamn stupid.

Why in the flying f*** am I gushing over things I don't have for no reason other than the fact that I don't have them? Realistically, they provide no augmented capabilities given my standing equipment set with the E-M1, trio of PRO zooms, the f/1.2 Nocticron, and every stellar tiny prime lens Olympus has pumped out over the last 6 years. What is the freaking point?

I know I bitched about this last year. And probably the year before that, too. It's a stupid seasonal impulse to whine about wanting something transformative as an influence, but looking for it in all the wrong places. I know what images I want to be making, and I know I am capable of making them right here, right now. What benefit possibly be gleaned from throwing new variables into the mix? Am I, subconsciously, so afraid to simply go forth and produce art that I am compelled to complicate matters so as to negate the flawlessness of their execution? Choice Paralysis is already crippling enough when one is in the market to invest in a camera from the start, introducing choice paralysis as a facet of one's actual daily workflow is completely idiotic.

Frankly, I screwed up my mental approach to workflows when I picked up the PRO zooms. Those optics are absolutely incredible, but with a mess of tiny primes around, I have difficulty rationalizing a parity of systems. I'm frequently missing the E-P3 days, when my bag was simple and straightforward, the PEN, a 12mm f/2, 17mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8. Minimal and perfect. It's much the same with the zooms, but with the added complication of "I don't want to carry all this bullshit around". But... I'm a fan of the capability those zooms present. Thus I am ultimately being undone by my own laziness in not sucking it up and just carrying the heavy bullshit around.

It's all just stupid. I have these fantasies of being a minimalist photographer (again), of being like the hipster-ish photographers I idolize today, strolling about with Fuji's most current X100 iteration and strictly editing photos on a phone or tablet. That escapist fantasizing is the ultimate expression of creative masochism, because I would never be satisfied with such a workflow. Such a transition of methodology would require another transformative life event, and I'm not particularly confident my body can deal with another roll into a power pole from the passenger seat of a Mini Cooper doing 80 down a back road. I had these options at the onset of my transformation 5 years ago, but I've made my bed with this Pandora's Box workflow so I'd best get sleeping. Knowing what I'm capable of producing, unfettered by technical glass ceilings, I will never not want to exercise each image to that potential, no matter how maddening the post-process may be. That awareness of every ounce of potential is a ruiner to anything less than the absolute best. That is why I don't produce art in the quantities I used to... my standards are higher.

This GAS is desperate wishing to regress to a point in which photography was a happy thing, an idle entertainment requiring little conscious effort because the end results didn't matter. I am past that point now, and my wailing about such bygone days is annoying even to myself. That period of growth that was so enjoyable is not coming back with the purchase of hipster-minimal-camera-X. The only way out of this head space is a stubborn and belligerent march forward, to the point where regularity of the High Standard Art is met with such little effort as the be considered an afterthought.

A new camera doesn't mean a goddamn thing. I'll pick up another one once my brick of an E-M1 breaks or gets stolen. Then I can take advantage of the chance for a little transformation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Post-Gallery Opening Report

Stillpointe Theatre in its current configuration hosting my humble gallery showing. It is a struggle deciding whether I'm happy with the balance of the empty walls... arguably I want them completely empty, but then I would also need to figure out what to fill them back up with and that is something I do not want to rope myself into...

It's been a very busy several weeks, both in terms of work and ancillary projects commanding a greater dedication of time than originally expected. All great learning experiences, and certainly networking opportunities, however I'd be lying if I said I didn't greatly want some brief period of zero-expectations for some needed reprieve. Suspect such freedom from the shackles of obligation is quite out of the near-term picture, unfortunately, but even then it's a great test of my limits (or an entertaining opportunity to fall apart completely).

My last post here I mentioned an inaugural gallery showing of my work. The event has received some mixed reception. Opening night was dense with people coming to view each piece, varying from patrons of the hosting theatre Stillpointe to family and friends, co-workers, co-workers of friends and family, and even among friends the variety spanned social circles from high school pals to current photography partners. It was actually quite the struggle to navigate from the social perspective, so many different spheres not really co-mingling so much as existing beside one another, thus it was difficult as the only common thread in the room to engage each different group in turn. Can't help but feel I may have left some parties feeling abandoned or ostracized, but for the life of me I tried to give everyone the face time they were due for showing up to support me.

While I absolutely appreciated the turnout and was flabbergasted by some of the distances traveled, the comfort zones stretched, to come in at the gallery opening, it was not the kind of turnout I was entirely expecting. Perhaps my vision of how things would go were too lofty - My interest was in the arrival of complete strangers, engagement, interest, and sales made to people who otherwise did not know me and did not know my work. But the space was ultimately rife with people I knew, people who knew me, had seen my work and heard my stories before. There was nobody to whom I really had to play salesman to (which wasn't necessarily a bad thing), and everyone there who bought a piece I suspect knew they intended to do so already as a show of support. It was a hug box of sorts, a space entirely entirely safe and seemingly insulated against open criticism, and I was rather excited to engage with people who didn't like the work I chose for the walls.

This expectation was contrasted by the worst-possible-case scenario the following week - Open Thursday through Saturday from 6:00PM to 10:00PM, I was lucky to have seen maybe 4 or 5 people come in, grand total. Thursday night one of the local homeless "regulars" spent 2 hours conversing with me in the gallery lobby, and I bought him a pack of cigarettes for his time. Friday wasn't too dissimilar, perhaps 2 strangers wandering in, and Saturday some friends stopped by and a couple more strangers but certainly not the random reception I had envisioned and hoped for. My conclusion based on this post-opening experience is absolutely in line with my thoughts on gallery showing of work up until this point of weakness when I thought photography-as-art could ever be relevant and sell... Nobody cares. Outside of the hug box opening night, people really just don't care. And they shouldn't, because I don't care either. Call it bias for staring at the same pieces on the walls for so many nights in a row, but none of it compels me, it doesn't call out to me, it's not engaging. My first mistake was picking pieces that would look good on walls. They may as well be on the interior decor shelves at Target or Walmart.

The other trick I thought might pull people into the space involved co-opting with other businesses, specifically wine distributors and breweries. Baltimore is host to plenty of both such companies I would have loved hosting wine or beer tasting in the space, but legalities got in the way. Baltimore City liquor licensing specifically limits distribution of alcohol to the business' home address, and without the ability to sell along with the tasting no company realistically saw a benefit, which is just good business sense and the way the cards fell on that idea. This week I'm employing the desperation play of offering headshots to purchasers or those who donate to the theatre hosting the gallery. That will likely appeal to the actual theatre crowd in the area, but even so I don't expect to see pieces flying off the walls. At this point I suppose I feel sort of stuck with work I cared about before being forced to stare at it for 16 hours over 4 days.

Things did sell well opening night, though, but I'm still plenty shy of any sort of "profit threshold". This gallery is not a thing I went into with any expectations beyond hopefully breaking even (of which I am also still tremendously short of accomplishing). The financial burdens of gallery showing are very much a behind the scenes thing, and while art buyers may stare at a piece and be appalled at the pricing of what seems so simple and cheap to make (value of the artwork displayed altogether abolished from the equation), what they completely miss are the costs of the gallery space (typically a 50% commission on the sale price of the artwork), the sales and use taxes for every piece purchased (often burdened at the seller's expense to make for easier pricing and transactions in a gallery format), and of course the time spent manning the gallery itself lest nobody ever have the opportunity to come in and see/buy the art (or scoff at the pricing because they "could get the same thing cheaper at Walmart"). At the very least, a gallery shower must earn 60% on top of the cost of production to break even on materials/commission/taxes, leaving extremely little wiggle room for a New Name artist showing work to pad at all for profit. It's a bit of math I suspect not all artists take into account in their gallery showing aspirations, but it is absolutely a bit of knowledge I will pass on to every aspiring artist henceforth. Without a name of pre-developed base of demand, a gallery is a mechanism of debt with the expectation of being a networking opportunity. A way to make new business with new people. If one wishes to sell artwork for profit... Try Etsy.

Gallery aside, it's been a nonstop rush of the more common one-off business. Several weddings, which were actually quite fun to shoot for sake of being far less stressful in that they were not beleaguered by traditional format. Running a steady project of maternity photos for an old elementary school friend as well, which typically would be well outside my realm of interest but 2 shoots in I'm having a blast with the happy couple and am looking forward to a third session in a couple more weeks. Extending my restaurant photography services to new clients in new avenues as well, aiming to try and build a more local network in which to provide the service without always relying on contracting agencies for jobs (much how I took real estate work outside of the same sort of format over time, partnering with clients on my own terms). It's been a lot of work, and I'm sitting on a backlog of photos with no time in-between to process them. For obvious reasons that has me remarkably anxious, but folding to the stress would achieve nothing. I predict several weeks upcoming will be spent slaving over Photoshop and Lightroom. I have no time for personal artistic pursuits, save for the 1 or 2 hours spared every week wherein just a hint of that sort of freedom can be gleamed. Winter is coming, and it is my busy season (which still makes no sense to me from a business perspective).

To close on a pedestrian note, Photokina:

  • Olympus EM1 Mk. II is doing exactly what it needs to do in confronting the prosumer DSLR's only discernible advantage, continuous autofocus. Not relevant to me, but it will be a happy upgrade to my workhorse EM1.
  • M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 is the replacement I want and need for the 12-40mm f/2.8 (which is also a great lens but normal zooms have never felt particularly useful to my shooting style).
  • M. Zuiko 12-100mm f/4 is kind of tempting as a mid-range walk-about stand-in, but my use cases for it would likely apply to night shooting and I have doubts as to the ability of an f/4 lens to provide ample imaging feedback for decent composition at night (maybe in the city, but is that too limiting a use case for a $1600 lens?).
  • FL-900R = YN-560 with TTL metering. Cool, but I'm not convinced of the regularity of its usefulness.
  • Fuji GFX is a camera to instill fantasies of medium format real estate photography that looks amazing with the proposed 23mm f/4 and by god do I want it. Realistically, however, I'm not sure I am of the skill level to justify such forward investment, and I sure as shit don't have the computer to deal with processing 50+ megapixel RAW files without significant struggles.
Oh do I have such awesome fantasies about using that Fuji GFX, though...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Back to Time Lapse?

Live Composite on the Olympus OMD E-M1, 7-14mm f/2.8 set at 9mm and f/4, ISO 200, compositing time ~40 minutes.

I've been on a crazy time lapse kick this past week, and it feels good to rush into a process that ultimately forces you to slow the hell down. The photographer's equivalent of meditation.

Business is still kind of slow, but might be picking back up finally. Would be interesting to discover a new market trend wherein all the work inevitably gets mashed into the last 3 or 4 months of the year (such as what happened last year, however weird a rush that was). Meanwhile, with Summer scorchers taming down a bit, it's nice to have the latitude in personal time to just run out and screw around with photography techniques new and old alike. Time lapse stands out as the hallmark experiment of the last week for its part.

Capturing sunset from Terrapin Beach Park.
Rob and I have made it something of a habit to chase sunset scenes (since mornings are still horribly inaccessible to us based on our normal 9-to-5 work lives). We've bounced from Terrapin Beach Park on the east end of the Bay Bridge to a multitude of parking garages in Baltimore City chasing the light. Never with any genuinely preconceived image or goal in mind, literally just picking a vantage that seems cool, setting up and running a sequence (or five). Done some storm chasing, too, and I'm squarely in the camp these days that the best time to be taking photos is when the weather absolutely sucks. Frankly, anything is more interesting (to me) than a clear blue sky. At least cloudy days lend themselves well to black and white shooting. Blue skies are just... generic garbage.

Since my incessant bitching began, oh, 4 years ago, in regards to the loathsome post-process of photography I'd mentally locked myself into, I feel the new methodologies I've employed with the flexibility (and frankly the power) of mobile phone editing paradigms and the multitude of mobile-only sharing networks have really released a pressure valve I'd kept clamped down for far too long. The sense of liberation comes from the freedom of not giving a shit how an image looks on any device other than my cell phone screen, especially if the manner in which that image is shared is nearly exclusive to other cell phone screens. It completely breaks my pixel-peeping impulses, and while it took some time to train away from some haughty sort of "brand control" when it comes to image quality, I'm discovering there is far more appreciation all around for the willingness to embrace scattershot sharing and high turnaround (all things I really should know already considering those were value propositions that got my business off the ground to begin with).

I bring that up because it also applies to recent time lapse adventures. The OMD E-M1 produces a good enough 720p, 30FPS movie right out of the camera with all the specifically tuned JPG image processing settings applied beforehand. And it's great, gets rid of the post-process middle man, looks clean (if you shoot smart and front load your efforts), and the output files are perfect for web upload. That said, I have been trying to stab at these recent time lapses with LRTimelapse, which I stand by among many others as being the best time lapse rendering software out there, bar none. But holy crap, it requires the sort of time investment one can only reserve for an extraordinarily boring Saturday when all your friends are out of town and the skies are so oppressively clear and blue you hiss like a melting vampire for entertaining the very thought of stepping outside. It presents great possibility, but is such a bear to use and a time sink like none other. Perhaps when my next depressive spell takes hold it will seem like a good use of my time, but damnit, right now, while my mood is manageably good, I just want to be out shooting.

Live Composite on the Olympus OMD E-M1, 7-14mm f/2.8 set at 9mm and f/4, ISO 200, compositing time ~50 minutes.

That does bring up a tangential thought, oddly. And I'm surprised I haven't mentioned it on this blog before, but I'm sure I tried to write something on the matter at some point, found myself frustrated with the insurmountable difficulties of translating a train-of-thought coherently into metered keyboard strokes, and chucked the post into the abyss of Blogger's trashcan (although, really, it's a Google company now, so I'm sure there's a pile of failed writings stacked pretty high somewhere on some Silicon Valley database, indexed under "WTF?").

I have a gallery show coming up. My first gallery show, actually, in that it is MY gallery show. I've shared walls with other artists and photographers before in themed galleries, but never had a showing of work dedicated to me and me alone.

I owe Rob for planting the seed in Ryan's head. Ryan is the owner and artistic director of Stillpointe Theatre in Baltimore, and Rob has been shooting their shows over the past year with great success. A side project of Ryan's, when the show season comes to a close or there's a long break in between productions, is hosting artists in galleries at the theatre space. He's already run a few such galleries, and Rob thought of name dropping me. Sure enough Ryan embraced the idea, with alarmingly little forethought (I'm honestly not entirely sure he's all that familiar with my work). And thus the rush to print began.

As someone who doesn't really buy art (I am doggedly Libertarian in my approach to the art process), I never understand the justification for what I always took to be high prices for gallery wall art. Keep in mind, in my business I sell a service, not images as product. I haven't the first clue how to valuate the abstract of time investment into creation, so I did a lot of research on the subject. Even with that knowledge, it still struck me as insane, so I ignored it and went straight into the print making. Then it all suddenly started making an extreme sort of sense when hours and days poured into curation, selection of print media, mounting options, sample products for test, panic attacks, lost sleep, inability to function at work and taking sick days on account of genuine psycho-billy freakouts, all finally culminating in a 4-digit expense for the final order, anxiety over shipping damages that may or may not happen, whether a product would get forgotten or lost in the midst of such a big order, checking each piece for quality... I'm 3 weeks into the process since hard starting it (once the shock of "Oh crap, I have a gallery show coming up" kicked in), and I'm STILL working out organization, pricing details, marketing of the show, making proof-of-sale cards for each print, calculating realistic discounts for series... and it's probably still not going to be over even once opening night hits. Something will change, something unexpected will be in effect, and it won't end until the show ends.

So, from the perspective of a person who never understood the actual cost and time investment of putting on a gallery, please let me apologize to all artists for never getting it until now. Even from the standpoint of this very minor gallery of mine in a theatre in Baltimore, THIS SHIT IS HARD.

That said... September 9th, 2016, starting at 7:00PM at Stillpointe Theatre's space at 1825 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD, I'll be on display in my inaugural "Place and Time" gallery, showcasing a multitude of pieces covering a variety of subjects photographed (for pleasure, not work) in the last year. Stillpointe will be offering food and drink (booze!), and all pieces will be up for sale, including series at a deep discount when purchased together. Everything is mounted and ready to hang on the wall, no frames needed. Some pieces (my industrial abandoned building stuff) is printed on sheets of aluminum for something REALLY unique. Furthermore, the gallery will be open for 4 weeks, so if the opening night isn't doable but you really want to come, there's plenty of leeway in the schedule. So please, swing by, I'll be around to chat and tell stories and teach and learn and generally try not to be brutally awkward as I inevitably seem to be in large social situations with strangers as of late.

And if you're genuinely interested, I recommend following the Facebook event page with an RSVP. I'll have my marketing hat on and intend to run some fresh ads and sample collages of coming gallery pieces over the next week. Hopefully all this time investment pays off in the end, but worst case scenario I will at least have lots of new stuff to hang on the walls at home!