Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Love Letters to my life #4: Harvesting my "journal"

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Years ago, friends of mine wrote a book on gleaning memories, moments, and "thought seeds" from your journals. I thought it was a way cool idea ... however, my journals were haphazard at best and my harvest was meagre.
This morning, as I was doing some reorganization of my Evernote files, I found something I had written a couple of years ago that was perfect for what I'm thinking about right now. It turned into a post about what I call my Ancestor Reclamation Project of remembering and honoring the non-DNA ancestors of my life. Writing that post led me to my photos file to find pictures to go with them, which also sparked other memories and thoughts. 
Suddenly I realized my computer is my journal, made up primarily of all my writings which go into Evernote and my twenty-some-odd thousand photos in Photos. Combined with the internet which holds my two active blogs, and all the stuff on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, I have a massive journal that also has the benefit of being light weight. 
Of course, I also have paper journals, but they tend to be a mess. My friend Cynthia is an art journal person and I drool over hers but I’m finally reconciling myself to the fact that my journals are ugly ducklings, but they are mine.
A story I remember about Buckminster Fuller was that, at a very young age, maybe 20ish, he decided to document the life of an “ordinary person.” It makes me wonder how much the practice of documenting our lives actually change it. I’m sure even the erratic, sometimes beautiful, sometimes just plain messy, version of journaling that I do changes me, opens up new connections, leads to new perceptions, and deepens my experience of life.
As I walk further into this strange land of advanced years, I am delighted to have created documentation that helps me understand more about my journey. I look back with fondness for where I’ve been and in anticipation of what lies before me. 
Here's a gleaning from this morning ... a poem written obviously some time ago and an early piece of digital art.
It's about time
 Time

Fifty years and four have
flown past my door.
I no longer have time
to not have time.

I do not have time to zoom past a field of flowers
glowing orange in the morning sun.
I do not have time to travel the world seeking
the wonders to be found in my own backyard.

I do not have time
to come back later
Or do it tomorrow
for tomorrow may never be.

I do not have time
to not slow down,
to put off a poem, delay a hug
or walk past a prayer.

I no longer have time,
for now, time has me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Photography: The critical importance of feedback and how to give it to yourself


"Good photographs are quantum packets of understanding;
they allow ideas to leap from one person to another, almost magically."
— Jeff Wignall, National Geographic photographer

From an early Instamatic with film the size of my little fingernail, my life has included a long series of cameras. However, it wasn’t until digitals arrived, that I started getting better. Not that the cameras were that much better; it was the instant feedback. I could see what i was doing wrong and play with other ways of shooting.

For the past couple of years, I was a member of the Nevada County Camera Club and every month we had about ninety photos submitted for critique by various judges. I made sure I had my allotment in every batch of those critique sessions. Some months I walked away bruised or confused, some months I floated away on sweet words. However, viewing and listening to the critique of ninety images every month ground some fundamentals into my psyche, but also left me wanting a more in-depth critique of my own work.
Black Ebony by Gabriel Olude
Now, I’m in Mexico with a new camera club that hasn’t grown into the capability of NCCC, so the question becomes how do I get the feedback I need to keep improving?

I need a set of criteria. But, which criteria? I started making a list and then decided there must be lists online. There are, of course ... dozens of them. A lot of the lists mention technical excellence, clarity, composition and so on. However, I liked an interview with National Geographic photographer Jeff Wignall who said that a photo could be technically beautiful but still not touch someone’s heart.

I definitely want to create photos that create a feeling, have an impact and “allow ideas to leap from one person to another.” So, impact has to be on the list. Let’s call it “Wow!” This photo art by Gabriel Olude is one that makes me say “wow!” every time I see it. It will be my benchmark for a rating of 10.  (From Issue 27, May 2017 of “Living the Photo Artistic Life.)


Wignall also said, "One of the best things you can do to improve your photography is to get your pictures in front of other people where you can see their reaction."

Dune Dancer by Ann Lavin
Something that several of us from NCCC did was print 50 of our favorite photos and have a “speed dating” session where we silently passed them around and let each person rate each of the photos of the others. It takes awhile but the results were enlightening. For one of my favorite images, it turned out that some of the reviewers didn’t even know what the subject was! Somehow, I have to make sure that the subject or the intended feeling is transmitted with power and “clarity."

This image above, "Dune Dancer" by Ann Lavin is a beautiful role model for clarity.

Tulip in Blue by Nancy Brizendine
Today’s cameras are excellent and even an average photographer can produce technically excellent photos. And, now there are dozens of apps that will transform ordinary photos into unique works of art. When I asked Google how many photographers there were in the world, the answers ranged from 75 million to 2 BILLION. A major question becomes: how to stand out from that flood of images?

The answer that surfaced for me is what in writing we call “voice,” a striking personal style, fresh viewpoint, or a unique way of seeing the world and capturing it in an image. Each image should give the viewer something he hasn’t seen or felt before. 
Obviously, with all the photos being taken today, it is not easy to find a novel way to capture an image, however, it is a criteria to strive for. “Uniqueness," became one of the criteria, spurring an intent to make images that were uniquely mine. 

It takes a lot to make a photo of a flower pop. "Tulip in Blue” by Nancy Brizendine has it all: style, voice, color, movement, light. It’s a great example of taking an overworked subject area to a higher level and is a role model I would like to live up to. (From Issue 29, July 2017 of “Living the Photo Artistic Life.)

Breaking the Pattern by Evelyn Elwan
I am currently in an online training and community focused on photo artistry and led by Sebastian Michaels. Dozens of artists are posting their images on a private Facebook group every day and top images are published in the “Living the Photo Artistic Life,” magazine. One thing I’ve noticed in looking at hundreds of works of art from this group is that some create a unique mood through a blend of light, subject, color and movement. It’s a bit difficult to describe, however, you feel it when it’s done well. So, add “mood” to the list. 
 An amazing  example of mood comes from Evelyn Elwan’s “Breaking the Pattern” (From Issue 27, May 2017 of “Living the Photo Artistic Life.)

Something Missing
After looking at so many images and reviewing all the criteria I could find, it seemed like there was still something missing: a quality of depth where there were constantly new things to be discovered, that kept attention roaming around the image. I decided to call this illusive quality, “abundance.”   
When I looked at the images that seemed to offer this abundance, I found two and couldn’t choose between them, so here they both are:

Artist: Doris Seybold
 
A Promise by Carol Entin
Both of these images offer a satisfying feast of details.

So, to recap, the five criteria I have chosen to critique my own photos with are:

Wow! - images that pop, giving you a feeling of having seen something new, felt something at a deeper level, connected with the essence of the artist and the subject.

Clarity - focus on a subject or intended feeling in such a powerful way that the viewer knows deeply what the image is trying to convey.

Uniqueness - a striking personal style, fresh viewpoint, or a unique way of seeing the world and capturing it in an image. Giving the viewer something he hasn’t seen or felt before in an image.

Mood - a blend of light, subject, color and movement that creates a definite feeling or sense of time or place.

Abundance - a quality of depth where there were constantly new things to be discovered, that keeps attention roaming around the image.

Now I’m off to see how my photos and art images match up with these qualities. Feel free to use these criteria for your own work … or explore the source materials below to choose the ones most appropriate for you.

*******  Source Materials:  *******


1.) Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.
2.) Technical excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the physical print.
3.) Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
4.) Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
5.) Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
6.) Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used, either physical or digital, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
7.) Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
8.) Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
9.) Lighting —the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
10.) Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
11.) Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.

12.) Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.

Five Factors That Judges Consider in Reviewing Photo Contest Entries  - National Wildlife Federation
  1. Originality
  2. Technical Excellence
  3. Composition
  4. Artistic Merit
  5. Overall Impact
Came up with lists of possible criteria before homing in on five:
  • Adherence/Appropriateness to Theme
  • Uniqueness of Concept
  • Originality
  • Clarity of Expression
  • Humor
  • Creativity
  • Innovative Means of Delivering Message
  • Entertainment Quality
  • Visual Design
  • Overall Artistic Impression
  • Composition
  • Clarity and Quality of Submission
  • Color, Lighting, Exposure and Focus
  • Audience Appeal
  • Marketability/Commercial Appeal
  • Newsworthiness
  • Inspirational Power
  • Expression of Theme
  • Usage of Brand to Reinforce Theme
  • Overall Impression/Impact
  • Current/Potential Social Impact
  • Level of Detail
  • Inspiration to Others
  • Wow! Factor
  • Memorable
  • Technical Execution
  • Visual Appeal
  • Artistic Merit

Rather than have a one word criteria, MKD suggested defining the criteria, for example:
    • Impact– what you feel when you first view the Entry. Does the photo evoke an emotion from the viewer?
    • Creativity– how the Entrant was able to convey their idea, message or thought in an original and imaginative way through their lens.
    • Style – how the Entrant is able to showcase their personal originality and technique to influence how the image is presented and interpreted.
    • Subject Matter– was the subject matter displayed in the photo appropriate to the story being told in the Photo Entry submitted and does it fully represent the Sponsor’s promotional theme?
    • Story Telling– how the Entrant is able to let their Photo Entry evoke the viewer’s imagination, which may differ by each viewer. Is the story being told the right story for the Sponsor and their brand?
    • Technique–the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
    • Composition– how all the visual elements harmoniously express the purpose or intent of the image. Does the photo draw the viewer in to look where the creator intended?
    • Presentation– having that finished look. Was the Photo Entry truly ready to be entered or were some finishing touches still required?
    • Color Balance– can bring harmony to a photo. Do the tones work together, effectively supporting the image? However, Color Balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
    • Center of Interest– the point(s) in the photo where the Entrant wants you to view the image. Does the photo draw you in? Does it have more than one center or interest or none at all?
    • Lighting—how the Entrant was able to use and control light. Was the lighting applied in the photo (manmade or natural) properly used to enhance the image?

excerpted from Winning Digital Photo Contests, by Black Star Rising contributor Jeff Wignall.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The twisted road of inspiration


It’s interesting to see how inspiration works. 
 
Cynthia Louden is doing a photography and haiku workshop that sounds like fun. However, my schedule doesn't fit, so I put the thought aside.

Yesterday, I was walking to her house to join a tour to Lake Cajititlán when I saw an orange house laced with morning shadows and a bright sun face by the door. I paused for a couple of extra minutes to take a picture and words started bubbling up forming the first two lines of a haiku. 
 
Original
When I returned from the tour, the photo called to me while the last line eluded me. I mean what can you do with only 5 syllables! And the image that danced in my eyes, now lay flat on the screen, while that last line sneered at every attempt I tried.

It reminds me of my first favorite childhood poem:

Outcast

By Edwin Markham

He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the will to win,
We drew a circle that took him in.

I kept trying things and finally drew the circle that brought it together.
Orange sun and shadow
Announcing another new day
To dance into life!
Since the color orange was what called me into this adventure, I like Ricky Lee Gordon's quote:

Color creates energy,
energy creates inspiration 
and inspiration creates change.

It is our responsibility to inspire ourselves 
to inspire others to inspire the change.
Art is the remedy for this.
Anyway, may we all dance into life today and find inspiration everywhere!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Think Different: a message for today

A little over twenty-one years ago, the world shifted … just a little.

On September 28, 1997, an ad was launched that called for people to Think Different.  
 
It was the beginning of a turnaround for Apple and its stock tripled within the next 12 months.

In today’s world, perhaps now more than ever, 
we need the words from this ad, 
from a corporate leader determined to succeed, 
from a group of creative people determined to tell a different story,
 
we need to come together as a people to think different 
about our world, our future, our humanity.

The United States of America was born as a grand experiment in democracy … 
flawed in many ways but determined to create a land of justice for all.

We’ve lost our way and it just may be that doing things the old way 
won’t get us on track again.

One of the crazy ones
We need to think different, see things differently.  
 
We have to be crazy enough to think we can change the world.

 
And here are the words:
 
Think Different 

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. 
The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. 
The ones who see things differently. 

They're not fond of rules. 
And they have no respect for the status quo. 
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. 
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. 
Because they change things. 

They push the human race forward. 
And while some may see them as the crazy ones, 
we see genius. 
Because the people who are crazy enough 
to think they can change the world, 
are the ones who do.” 
Rob Siltanen, creator of Apple ad, in collaboration with others at the
TBWA/Chiat/Day advertising agency.

From the TBWA/Chiat/Day webpage


More Information:

Forbes: The Real Story Behind Apple's 'Think Different’ Campaign, December 14, 2011



Saturday, October 6, 2018

September Sunshine: great stories and inspiration from Facebook


In an effort to counterbalance the other side of Facebook, twitter and life in general right now, I’m going to start doing a monthly blog of things I've found on Facebook: great stories and things that inspired me … the monthly sunshine that makes me happy and renews my faith in human kind.

September Sunshine

Erasing HateCorey Fleisher is a Canadian-based graffiti removal specialist and power-washer who dedicates his free time, skills and resources to create awareness about hate crime and anti-Semitism, and he’s inspiring a community of activists to improve society and abolish hate. TedxTalk. Video

Saving the CoastlineJack and Laura Dangermond save the coastline for future generations. They donated almost 25,000 of California coastline to the Nature Conservancy, land they bought for $225 million. Thank you for your generosity.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin — determined, dedicated, and strong enough to buck the old-guard. At 25, she wrote a brilliant PhD dissertation about the make up of the Universe, one considered by many astronomers to be one of the best and most influential in the field of astronomy, although the credit for her thesis went to a man. Includes video.

The Dead South have transformed bluegrass with their single 'In Hell I'll be in Good Company’! This just makes me happy.

Colin Kaepernick - "JUST DO IT" Nike Commercial 2018 - "You don’t have to be like anybody to be some body."

LP Video - Lost On You. Weird name - amazing voice. Laura Pergolizzi is an American singer and songwriter who performs under the stage name LP. She has released four albums and one EP. She has written songs for other artists including Cher, Rihanna, the Backstreet Boys, Leona Lewis and Christina Aguilera. 

City with no cars - Pontevedra, Spain - you can hear the birds sing in Pontevedra because, "decided to take back the public space for the residents and to do this we decided to get rid of cars.” There have been no traffic deaths in the city since 2009.

Washing machines and bullying - When Principal Akbar Cook installed washing machines in his high school in Newark, attendance went up and bullying went down. Schools are spending huge sums on anti-bullying programs. Maybe the dollars are going in the wrong direction. Includes video.

Caterpillar to chrysalis - an amazingly uplifting video about transformation

Whistling Orange juice man is on the street every morning, making juice and whistling. He always makes me smile.


Garden of Sound - pure beauty. Video.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Power of your words

First of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Be Impeccable with your Word:

Speak with integrity.

Say only what you mean.

Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.

Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Love Letters to my Life #3: Editing ... how I love editing


Calle Arcoiris (Rainbow Street)
This time last month, I had just finished a book. Or, so I thought.

It was the first major writing project I had done in awhile and I had forgotten what happened at that stage. Suddenly the creativity gears shift from generation to refinement, from roughing in a painting to adding the golden highlights on the trim of a dress. 

The generation stage is blood, sweat and tears: facing a blank page, not knowing if anything will come forward.

Refinement is sweet, soft, confident, a no-fail zone ... unless the gentle sweeping away of typos, comma splices, and slightly off words reveals something deeper calling, suggesting other memories, new insights, a strange feeling of connection with something that hadn’t been there before, and is now demanding its space on the page.

Click here for free version.
This month, putting the final touches on the book pendulumed me back and forth between those two zones of creativity. One morning I woke up thinking the whole book was wrong. I had lost the thread of meaning and every page would have to be rewritten. By the next day, I could see gaps where a new page or image here or there … or maybe a whole new chapter … would pull it together. A glimpse of what I wanted to say was pulling me forward.

It fascinates me to start a creative journey like this when I truly don’t know where I’m going. I start out just wanting to rearrange the spices on the counter when suddenly I’m knocking out a wall because I just know it’s the right place to put a patio. (Thankfully, that’s merely a metaphor.)

While some writers and artists are very clear about what they want to say when they begin, others like me have to write to know what they think. When I was writing a lot of poetry, the last line almost always knocked me over and made me wonder just where it came from.

Being on a path for a long time has its benefits. I don’t get swept away by the tides as often. And, there’s a body sense when something is right or when it’s still slightly out of kilter and needs to be clarified and polished. I do love the slow, repetitive polishing, the looking for a word with the right rhythm and meaning, seeing the cliche hiding in a paragraph and pulling it up by its roots and then wondering what to plant in its stead. Looking at a page for the forty-first time and seeing a typo light up like someone had flipped a switch.

I’ve heard people ask how often a book needs to be edited. I agree with Roald Dahl who said, 
“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” 
Click here for Roald Dahl interview
Which makes me think of a video interview with him where he talks about his process. He writes in a tiny, quiet and unswept hut and wraps himself in ritual and a warm, comfy cover for his feet. He sharpens his six pencils, sits in his one chair with a lap board for his writing pad, pours a cup of coffee from his thermos, and settles down, saying, “Finally you get settled; you get into sort of a nest; you get really comfortable; and then you’re away.”

So, now I’ve called my book done again, and put it out into the world as a free offering. Gratitude sweeps over me and once again I give thanks for the incredible gift of time. I have time to go slow, ponder possibilities, explore passing interests and whims, drop every thing and have coffee with a friend or read a good book.

Of course, now that the book is done, (she says with hope in her heart) I also have time for new projects ... and playmates to collaborate with ... so who knows how many quiet moments of reading will actually show up.

A big find for the month ... after spending a great deal of time trying to find a printer to replace the metal prints I was getting from Bay Photo, I've finally found one who uses a coating which I may like even better than metal. The opening image is a piece I entered in Fotoseptiembre photo show. Of course you can't see the finish but it makes it look very close to what you see on the screen but still doesn't need a frame or glass since I build the frame into the image itself. Progress.