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.