Tag Archives: photography

Where I Screwed Up

IMG_6419 - CopyI realized today just how and when I screwed up my foray into photography.  The fundamental malfunction came about at exactly the second that I began to care what anyone else thought about what I was doing.

As I look back on many of the posts in this blog I realize, and sometimes even specifically state, that they are written for the benefit of future-Rob only and that anyone else that happens to read them can take them or leave them and I care not a single whit one way or another.  Rereading some of those posts now, current-Rob is extremely impressed and entertained at the moment in time that was crystallized in a few words.  Current-Rob is occasionally horrified at an uncorrected grammatical error as well but one takes the good with the bad.

201 - CopyFor many years, photography went along in much the same groove.  I wandered about, captured what I saw, posted it somewhere in the endless oblivion that is the internet and left it to sit for a decade.  When I look back at those photos now I’m similarly impressed by the feelings they summon up for me.  Does anyone else get the same vibe from them?  I could not possibly care less.  They do so for me and to be frank there is no person I would rather give pleasure to than me.

This all went bananas about 9 months ago.  I started taking photos at live events, founded Indy Live Photography, and began to have a following.  People started to … somewhat … pay attention to me.  Sometimes positively and sometimes negatively but most of the time completely failed to care.  A big chunk of my psyche started to wind itself up trying to figure out what people liked and what might “sell” and would appeal the masses.  I spent thousands of hours taking photos and processing them but somewhere in all that forgot the person I was supposed to be pleasing.  Not dissimilarly to the hundreds of idiotic book reviews you’ll find in this blog, I pumped out quantity and forgot about quality and worst of all neglected my only true audience.  

071 - CopySo from this day forward I declare simply, and concisely, that you are welcome to look at my work and do what you will with it but I sincerely and completely don’t give a damn what you think because it’s not really for you anyway.  You’re not going to look back on it in ten years and think about the nuance of expression in a particular photo or ponder the larger context of the instant in time that was captured… but I am.  This is my life in these photos and in these words and you are more than welcome to share them with me but I can’t let you influence them lest they be untrue to me.

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69 things I do with my Wang – Funniest thing about this book is probably the title (2/5)

As usual I received this book free for the purposes of review. This time it was directly from the author via email. Despite that kindness I give my candid opinions below.

This is a pretty simple book; it’s just a series of pictures featuring the author’s old WANG computer posed in various situations that lend themselves to puerile puns about penises. Enough said.

On the good side, this is intended to be a wacky madcap book with its mind in the gutter and, as the kids say, the book “owns” that about itself. It is exactly what it intends to be which is to be respected. So I give the author credit for staying true to the theme.

The downside, however, is that most of the content just isn’t funny. There are a few that make you nod in vague appreciation but nothing in this made me crack a smile. I can be a somber sort at times but I’m not THAT somber; this just quite cut it. Moving on from the words, much of the photography was also found wanting. Picture sizes varied wildly and each page is only about half filled. It felt like the author might have been stretching a bit to get to 69.

In summary, I can see the potential for this book but it needs more … something. There are only so many penis puns after all and maybe 69 is just too many.


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Seeking Superlatives Or: Shooting for the Moon

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people around me lapse into the use of blanket superlatives. They’ll talk at length about the smartest/nicest/tallest/most wonderful person they ever met and while these stories are nice, my first rather egotistical thought is, “How would this person describe ME?” Lately I’ve found increasingly that I’m really tuned in to what people think of me and care far too much about the opinion of the world.

Perhaps it’s my fractured upbringing but I’ve always sought approval rather desperately. As a child I never really had anyone to approve of anything I said or did, usually quite the contrary, so there’s some compensatory instinct that nibbles away at everything I do making me want to reach further and be more. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing; it’s the gift of testosterone. Men typically do always want to claw their way to the top. The question that occurs, however, is to ponder just how much of this is healthy. I’ve noted too that my efforts really are rather unfocused and random. Some days I feel good about things and some days I just can’t shake the idea that I’m wasting my time and energy completely. There’s just so much randomness. Occasionally it’s good to sit down and note just what the random things are so that when I look back in a year or two I can realize that I’ve abandoned something that was important for a decade. So in no particular order…

Apparently I’ve been photographing random crap obsessively for 5 years officially as of June. To be honest I hadn’t really taken much note of the anniversary and this is an area that frustrates me particularly. In 5 years I’ve tried to make my services available countless times but it’s an abominable struggle to find willing subjects. My style and particularity in artistic venue just fails to make sense to people for the most part. So I’m left wandering the streets with a camera. While this is certainly productive enough, it’s just not what I’m looking for. My introverted personality doesn’t sync well with trying to get into people’s faces and snap their photos.

My actual day job, as always, is rather a conglomeration but that’s exactly how I prefer it. As in life, I’m not the best person to do any one job but I am the solid and reliable person who can be depended on to do any random thing that is required at the moment. I’m hopeful that every workplace needs one of those people.

Attempts at writing have devolved into an odd editorial phase. Excepting random blog entries like this one, I tend to write mostly book reviews. And while it’s easy to poo-poo what I’ve done in that vein, I certainly do have a mighty stack of books on the shelf from authors awaiting my attention and more come in every day. I do not write the most flowery or most positive reviews. In fact some of them are downright thorny and scorching, but my readers can be assured that if I say a book is worth reading that it was my honest and utterly uncorrupted opinion on the thing. Individual results may vary, of course, but at least there’s one opinion out there that’s honest.

Continued attempts at polyglot status…. remain sporadic. I daily question why I need to learn another language just so I can not talk to people in that language. Despite that question, the stacks of flashcards continue to move about the apartment.

In retrospect, this post strikes me as rather self-serving and inane. Like the rest of the developed world, I continue in my circle to do the same things over and over while other sections of the world scrabble just to have enough food to eat. The fact that I’m carrying on at all about the quality of how I spend my free time is rather embarrassing. So with that realization I’ll go away and be glad that I have something to show for the last decade or so. Doubtless I’ve written this same blog entry, or one similar, 20 times. I am, if nothing else, effortlessly consistent.

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On Bubbles of Acquaintance and Fleeting Irritation

In 2009 I wrote a rather maudlin blog entry about my position in the world. On that sunny July day I felt as lonely and isolated as I had since I was a child. I was a fish in a bowl that sat ignored on the doorstep of humanity. It was as if the entire world was mocking me with its collective glee. To put it in the most cliche way possible, I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world. Life rather sucked, to place description of that time-frame firmly in the vernacular.

Fast forward to the current day and the picture is different beyond any reasonable recognition. In ways that involve relating to other people, the world has turned, but for the life of me I can’t tell you with any accuracy WHY it has done so. For quite some time Laura has been gently teasing me about my lunch calendar. To be specific, the phrase, “you have lunch with other people more than anyone else I’ve ever known!” has been bandied about repeatedly. Given my rather fishbowl existence a few short years ago, this is a reasonably impressive turn of events. Today was a particularly impressive example of this odd change in circumstance.

This morning I kissed my delightful and beautiful fiancee goodbye in the morning. At lunch I met up with an old friend and just as we were pondering wrapping up another of my old friends walked in and joined us. Two hours or more of lunch later, I get in the car to go see a movie with someone else and I get a text from yet another person that I haven’t talked to in a decade. Clearly the fish is out of the bowl and gone are the days when I could tick off on my whiteboard the days that have passed since I spoke to another human being. My life is full of people and as happy as I am about that I cannot begin to tell you how or why it happened.

Switching gears dramatically, I move to today’s moment of irritation. Ages ago I did some free artistic work for a company where I worked. This was work that was clearly outside any reasonable expectation but I did it because I enjoyed it and I wanted to contribute to the company. Well, not long after that I was let go in a layoff. At the time I bent over backwards to be magnanimous about the whole thing and I remain so. Business is business, no reason for acrimony. However, I’ve started seeing my artwork popping up in various places and I must admit that it rather digs at my soul to see my work, which I provided in my own time and for free, used by the company that fired me. Logically, I realize that I offered myself up for free and that I have nobody to blame but myself, but it does rather irritate me and dissuades me rather strongly from ever taking such a gracious stance with my work in the future. Society does not respect generosity but instead merely takes advantage of it until it no longer has a need for it. Lesson learned.

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Feeling Fairly Fitful

Placid Patient Repose

Placid Patient Repose

Well, well, well if it isn’t the unlucky side of the house that gets to hear me blather on about nothing.  Like a late-series Seinfeld episode this is likely to be one of those posts that you read all the way through and as you near the end you say to yourself, “What did I just read THAT for?  I could have been gouging my eyes out with chopsticks during that time!”  I’ll try to avoid anything that would bring you to that extremity but I must point out that I’m not likely to be entirely sensical.

So this entry was very nearly devoted to photography watermarking.  I had a couple paragraphs written before I realized that I was so over the idea that I didn’t even care enough to write about how annoyed I was by it.  Suffice to say that the new protection mechanism for my photographic work basically boils down to trusting the great stone wheel of karma to crush any would-be wrong-doers.  So if you steal my work for your own profit-making purposes then I’m just going to laugh when you get crushed by a huge rock.  No sympathy whatsoever.

Moving on, I woke up this morning with a hangover.  That would be a katzenjammer to all you visiting New England types.  Before you cluck your tongue at me both for being hungover and for using the word katzenjammer when hangover would have done perfectly well, let me inform you, oh assiduous reader who has made it 254 words into this post, that it was a hangover NOT caused by alcohol but rather from general dehydration.  In retrospect it has been a rather busy few days.  I traipsed for many, many hours photographing the city Sunday and Monday and apparently took far too little care with my own level of hydration.  Thus the surprise of waking up this morning feeling as if I’d been hit over the head with a tequila bottle despite the fact that I hadn’t actually consumed any fermented agave squeezings at all.  Clearly taking one bottle of water is insufficient for seven hours of hiking over two days.  Who knew?

Being sensitive to my own weariness, I came home tonight intent on relaxing a bit and putting my feet up in front of the television.  True to form, I proceeded instead to sit at the computer and work on personal projects for… five hours.  Ahh, it sure feels good to relax!..?  I really don’t see how people do it.  If I don’t accomplish… well, something that I can vaguely justify as “productive” in an evening then I start to feel rather guilty about it.  The average person, I sense… I suspect… does not have this problem.  My fundamental need seems to be not to relax but simply to do something different.  The last two nights I did the outside thing.  Tonight I planted myself firmly inside, made a simple dinner that hobos would be ashamed of and just wrote, edited, uploaded, and generally fiddled.  Tomorrow I’ll be back out in the crowds and that’ll be good again because it’s different.

In the paragraph above I hint at the need for something “productive” and it’s at about this point in my mental conversation that I ask myself the rather pointed question, “and THIS is what you call productive?”  Much of tonight was wasted.  I hosed about pointlessly with watermarking photos and the decided that was stupid.  So two hours down the crapper.  I did eventually finish two blog posts and start this one.  The first was a short blurb on night photography on the photo side of the house.  This might be somewhat helpful to someone though there are thousands of people better qualified to give this advice than I am.  Despite that, if the stats are to be believed, plenty of people will read it so perhaps it’s some positive contribution to the universe.  The second was a 100-year-old ad for toothpaste on the advertising side.   Traffic over there is pretty light but I tend to amuse myself at least.  Lastly there’s this wandering musing in search of an ending.  All this brings me solidly back to the fundamental question of “what’s the point?”  Why do I, or does anyone, bother?  What exactly has been accomplished by anything I’ve done tonight?

If one takes a few deep breaths and works really hard to put the answer of, “I do this to service my raging narcissism” out of one’s mind, then one can devise a couple reasonably plausible answers.  The first is that putting oneself on public display does have a tendency to improve whatever you happen displaying.  Even if your audience doesn’t offer their direct and helpful feedback, merely the knowledge that whatever you write or paint or photograph will be on display and open for others to see does tend to make one focus a bit.  I hope that I’m a better “photographer/writer/advertising commentator/whatever” because of your collective influence.  It’s also worth noting that you DO offer your direct feedback and are exceptionally helpful.  Not to mention that in consuming your work as I peruse your respective blogs, it fortifies my own and makes me at times absolutely consumed with envy.

So if not this, then what?  I could, I suppose, sit and learn a foreign language or read every book in the Big Box of Books but would that be an improvement over what I’m doing?  The mere act of repeating an activity reinforces the skill it takes to achieve it so even if I write and write and write every day and nobody ever reads it then I am, by force of repetition alone, improving my craft.  So if I can use my raging narcissism to my advantage and motivate myself to actually do something that’s good for my intellectual life in the long run then isn’t that good thing?  It seems a victimless crime unless you count my readership.

And with that, I think I shall close.  Such is the somewhat tattered thread of consciousness that runs through my life.  I find myself having much the same mental dialog over and over and sometimes with vastly different outcomes.

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The Bane of Expectations

Today I left the apartment with fervor, energy and drive that I haven’t felt in a while (at least a week!).  Motivation is a costly commodity when the temperature is 38 degrees and the wind is gusting at 30 miles per hour.  I like to get out and do the photo thing but let’s face it, I’m a wimp.  If it’s a choice between taking photos or keeping all my appendages intact, I’ll just go pull something out of the big box of books and turn the heat up.  But this afternoon I poured out the door like a bucket of water over Niagra falls; I was ready to take on the day and whatever it happened to bring.

As with weather, I’m also a wimp when it comes to parking.  I’d rather park somewhere a mile or two away than bother with a parking garage.  As I got out of the car at the Indianapolis Zoo and headed across the river on foot towards Lucas Oil Stadium I could feel the wind pushing at my back like an impatient mother trying desperately to give birth to an overly plump child. I knew that the walk back was not going to be a pleasant one.  Regardless, the car was safely parked, I had camera in hand, tripod and other equipment on my back and I had a destination.  Frozen face of the future be damned.  It was now time.

Then I arrived at downtown and saw all the… stuff.  Here was the city I had photographed at least a dozen times and it was all made up for a monumental event.  It’s almost as if the place looked at me and said, “OK, Mr. Smart-guy, I’m waiting.  Take my picture already.”  And, as happens to me anytime that an entire city anthropomorphizes and mocks me, I found myself rather locked up artistically.  Rather than relaxing and just letting the photos come to me in a natural way, I ended up playing a complex three-dimensional game of “where’s Waldo” in which Waldo is that perfect shot that I just have to get and if I don’t get it then I would look back on the day a month from now and be furious with myself.

And really, I think that’s exactly the problem with such events.  If I just show up at some random spot and glide around for three hours I know with absolute certainty that I’m going to find something I really like.  I can summon something from nothing without much forethought or difficulty.  But when you go to an event wherein people EXPECT you to get good shots it’s a much different mindset.  It’s almost as if because I know there’s something to be found I end up impatiently looking for it and missing the more natural or artistic bits that are all around us at all times.  As a result, I always see the photos I come back with after an event as rather disappointing because I never feel that I found that ineffable “it” that was lurking waiting to be captured.

Despite my disappointment, I come home and post my rot online so that at the least I can say that I documented the day.  Inevitably though, somebody will come along and notice something in the album that really does have more to say than I thought.  The hangover of expectations, it seems, not only saturates the act of taking the photos but also finds its way into post-processing and would last forever except for the input of people from outside my own skull.   I’m a terrible judge of my own work in general and the issue of expecting something from a situation seems to make it much, much worse.

Clearly though I need an attitude adjustment.  If I choose a random direction and drive then I see photography as a fun recreation that can turn any locale into hours of fun and produce something I like at the end.  If I go somewhere on purpose then photography becomes a gauntlet of challenge thrown down that must be picked up and accepted at all costs.  I find myself walking faster and faster in an attempt to locate that redeeming photo op that will make the miles of walking all worthwhile.  I won’t deny that I’m often a hopelessly competitive person, but in this case I’m just competing with myself in a pointless and circular way that does more to burn calories and wear out my jeans than it does to advance my art.

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Random Thoughts for 1/22/2012

Of the three blogs I maintain I find this one the hardest to post in.  The advertising blog is easy.  I’ve got piles of these damn things all over so it’s literally as simple as sifting through a pile of magazines or papers and finding one that seems amusing.  Easy enough.  The photography blog is easy too for similar reasons.  They’re easy because they’re specific and well-defined.  This blog is just random “whatever” and I’ve been resisting posts that don’t really have a theme which means that there’s an inherent contradiction between this blogs intent and what I’m trying to post in it.  So in the spirit of following my gut and posting what comes naturally, I bring you random thoughts for the 22nd of January in 2012.  (BTW, I’m pretty damn proud of myself that I managed to put 2012 in the subject line rather than putting 2011 as I have for so long.  Please hold your applause.)

To begin the random rot for today, I moved this blog from Blogspot a few months ago and one thing I’ve noticed is that the blogs on WordPress are head and shoulders above their blogger counterparts.  While they are busily and vacuously talking about their day-to-day lives, you guys are creating real and substantial art.  I spend a lot of time surfing around WordPress so it seems only fitting that with each post on The Tattered Thread that I highlight one of the other great blogs I’ve seen during the day.

Today’s featured “Blog that’s a Hell of a Lot Better than Mine” is Rebecca Latson Photography.  Not only does she take astonishingly good photos, but she also has published a couple of books and writes fairly substantially on the topic of photography to help novices improve their work.  Check out her three posts on the unofficial and totally optional rules of photography here, here and here.  She’s on my subscription list and she should be on yours too.

Slipping into the random, I’m in a bit of a quandary.  Starting in 2003 I started writing in a totally different blog.  In the months since I switched to WordPress, I’ve been slowly cannibalizing this other blog but there are a LOT of posts that just don’t… well, just don’t fit.  On one hand, I want to meticulously reedit and refine every post on the old site and reuse it here.  On the other, I want to just mindlessly import it and nuke the previous site.  If I do that though, I feel as if it’s a huge waste since absolutely NOBODY goes back in any blog more than a half dozen posts.  So it’s like I’d be moving boxes from an old house and putting them immediately into the cellar of a new house, never to be seen again.  To me, this writing is incredibly important.  It’s a decade of my innermost thoughts for the love of god!  As I look back, I can see posts that I wrote where I can’t help but think that I was just a small-minded jerk.  If I look at the tag ‘religion’ I can see with great clarity the point at which one of my co-workers said about 200 words that completely changed my view of Christianity.  I remember the post I wrote when a co-worker gave me a Bible (NASB) to read.  All that history and that’s JUST the part related to religion.  Perhaps I need to stop complaining and instead look at this as a HUGE asset waiting to be tapped.

Continuing with the random, I set myself the goal of 5,000 photos in 2012 and 100 books finished.  As of this writing, I’m 173 photos behind the pace and 2 books behind.  The photos I can certainly catch up on since… well, it is winter in the Midwest, so that’s not particularly inspiring for a nature photographer.  I’ve finished four books (which will get their own blog post at the end of the month) but I have pondered at some point whether this purely numerical goal will backfire in some way.  The first four books of the year have been fairly high quality.  I ploughed through the monstrous “1952 Omnibus of Science Fiction”, zipped through “Nickel and Dimed”, yawned my way through “A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad” and was massively entertained by “Half-Broke Horses”.  This is all fairly good stuff but would I be better served to finally just suck it up and finish “Islam: The Straight Path” that I started SO long ago and have summarized with such assiduity.  So the question of the day seems to be: is it better to spend a month reading a stack of random books on 10 different topics or spend an entire month reading one book in intimate and painstaking depth?

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