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.