Sunday, January 31, 2010

365/29 Nel mezzo del cammin di nostravita

365/28 Nel mezzo del cammin di nostravita

"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita."

(In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.)

Dante's Inferno

I've always liked the idea of writing on skin. I believe it stems from my interest in tattoos and the variety of designs that can be etched into permanency just beneath the surface. A black sharpie and a steady hand are all that's needed to have some fun with the camera.

I think that's one of the most important parts of this 365 process. Having fun with it, that is. There's a certain quality to thinking outside of the box when coming up with one new photographic idea after another. It's complete and utter terror mixed with uncertainty, doubt, annoyance ... and a dash of relief when the idea works out. One more day, one less photo to have to worry about.

Sometimes you come up with an idea like this one. It starts out as something completely different. I wanted to take photos of some business cards splayed out in my hand. Something you'd see with a deck of cards and a magician, but representing something about me. I played with that idea for half an hour last night trying to make it work before ever clicking the shutter. Never did take that photo. I wasn't very fond of the way the cards flared out under my fingertips. It just didn't work.

But, this got me thinking. What if the subject just needed to by my hand? What could I do with that? When I was shooting in the studio on a regular basis, I had a habit of photographing my left hand to quickly gauge how close I was to a reasonable exposure with our studio equipment. I must have a few dozen of these photos now. All well lit, showing off my life and love lines.

I'd recently looked at a photo of someone's open palm, almost shoved into the lens of the camera. This well-worn hand was covered in ink and letter, all describing the owner with a mottled cloud of words, tagging in black. I wanted to do something like this, but with some coherent thought.

In this case, it was a quote from Dante's Inferno in the original Italian. It's something that's always struck a chord with me.

I like it how it turned out. The black certainly worked well.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

365/28 Home is where the bunk bed is ...

365/28 Home is where the bunk bed is ...

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea."

Robert A. Heinlein

My daughter's room is one of the coziest rooms of the entire house. It's very peaceful and relaxing in there. I know not why. I mean, it's a complete and utter mess. Toys strewn everywhere, bits of art paper, failed experiments with crayons. There's writing on the wall from some point in the past where she got angry at us or her brothers (she's young, she'll grow out of it; that's what fresh paint is for).

There's a lamp turned on all the time to provide a flourish of white glowing light. A bunk bed fills the room. Something we bought a two or three years back. She was ecstatic when she moved to a big girl bed.

One of my favorite things to do is go in there and listen to her play. She's both meticulous and mellow. The "downside" to this is how easy it is for sleep to creep up behind you and hit you over the head. It's very ninja like that in her room. And the only thing that stopped her from covering me up with her cow blanket was that I was laying down on it.

She poked on the nose when I began snoring. I'd dozed off for a few minutes apparently. Took a quick snap of what relaxation really means, then left the room so she could go back to playing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

365/27 The Castle

365/27 The Castle

Take a look at a castle. Any castle. Now break down the key elements that make it a castle. They haven't changed in a thousand years. 1: Location. A site on high ground that commands the territory as far as the eye can see. 2: Protection. Big walls, walls strong enough to withstand a frontal attack. 3: A garrison. Men who are trained and willing to kill. 4: A flag. You tell your men you are soldiers and that's your flag. You tell them nobody takes our flag. And you raise that flag so it flies high where everyone can see it. Now you've got yourself a castle.

Irwin, The Last Castle

It has been one of those days where the afternoon of angry cloud fronts and the wet smell of rain have left me garrisoned inside my castle. Well, my home. It ended up being a quiet and sullen evening, so I slapped The Last Castle onto the TV, turned the volume down, and let it percolate through the air like bad lounge music. Only, with explosions, guns, and insurrection.

The lead-in narration to the movie has always inspired me, remind me that there are basics for everything that just don't change. Building blocks upon which your metaphorical walls and turrets, parapets and flags, soldiers and saints sit upon, ready to be assaulted by ... whatever. This time, it was self-deprecation.

I've been kicking myself today because I had the opportunity to shoot with a really good rigger earlier this week and I didn't. I couldn't re-arrange my evening schedule for even a single hour to pop over to where he was set up. I keep telling myself it would have been epic, but that doesn't seem to help my mood. It's not often that I get to shoot something that has been set up by someone else and all I have to worry about is my photographic vision.

This weekend, though. This is different. A local body painter and I have been playing tag for the last few months, talking about doing a shoot or two. He does excellent work. This will be my first time shooting something like this, so I'm really excited about it. He's going to do something inspired by Mardi Gras and Carnival. Should be fun. If it works out the way I expect and we're both happy with the results, we're going to do some more collaborative shoots in the future.

For now, though, I'm going to relax in my castle and think about what my photographic flag should be. Maybe that'll help steel my artistic confidence and keep me working against the lumbering hordes just outside the walls. Oh, and while I'm at it, I think I'll steal a few pieces of Pez from the dispenser so carelessly left on the kitchen table the kids. Pez makes everything right as rain.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

365/26 Under the Tower

365/26 Under the Tower

Three hundred years ago a prisoner condemned to the Tower of London carved on the wall of his cell this sentiment to keep up his spirits during his long imprisonment: 'It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.'

James Keller

I'd like to say that I have something pithy and inspiring for tonight, but I don't. I can't. I won't. Tonight was a trial of patience, good will, and technical geekery. Admittedly, I probably should not have tried doing this right as classes ended at UT (man, hordes of students EVERYWHERE). As well, I probably should have read the manual a bit more on how the interval timer worked so I could do my self portraits.

But when has that stopped me from trying to play with the camera?

Never. Well, mostly never.

I did two setups tonight, trying to get something together like Dustin Diaz's work on the streets of San Francisco. I took some of his advice on how he does it. Especially the focusing bits. What I discovered was that the camera was resetting the focus when I turned on the interval timer to handle the shots. I'm not yet sure why this was occurring. The way I normally have the camera set up, this shouldn't have happened.

So, I ended up with one shot in five being in focus. Frustrating. I really only like one of them.

The other annoying part of this setup was the weak-assed tripod I have. I can't effectively do portrait style photos with it. I always think the camera is going to fall off the head. The tripod was never really meant to handle a 5lb camera setup in that position. The lens kept creeping slowly towards the floor. I need to get me that new tripod setup. Soon.

The second setup involved using the UT tower, all aglow in it's burnt orangeness, as the background. First hurdle tripped over? From where I wanted to shoot, I couldn't get the tower fully in view with my normal lens (the 24-70mm f2.8). And I certainly wasn't going to set the camera up on the other side of the road without some adult supervision while it triggered remotely with the interval timer. There were just too many people floating around the area for me to feel safe enough.

Aaaand, because I made the intelligent choice of doing this right as evening classes broke, I had people walking right into the field of view as I had gotten everything setup and the camera rolling. Frustrating. Some folks were gracious about it (which I appreciate, you anonymous UT students!). But others were just blind to the fact that there was a camera and flash going off once every five seconds and ... oh, yes, you're in my frame. Thanks. Really.

Another 50-ish photos where one in five was usable. I only got one frame I liked out of the entire setup.

I like playing with the camera. I'm finding that I don't really like being in front of it if I can't have someone experienced behind the lens. I much prefer being in direct control of the camera, honestly. Easier to make photos that are worth posting. There were a few folks that came up to me while I was playing to ask why the tower was orange. I should have roped them into having their photos taken. Maybe next time.

I might try this all again. There's a few other areas around campus that I want to set up at. Next time I'll have the knowledge I gathered tonight. Doubleplusgood for me.

Now, for some technical bits and a bonus photo!

The Tower photo was setup with an 18-55mm lens at F4, cranked to 18mm so I could get the entire tower in the frame. There is an SB-900 to camera left about 6 feet up from ground level and snooted with some blackwrap. The flash is zoomed to 200mm so I can get that nice, crisp shadow line against the wall behind my body. The blackwrap gave me the light falloff that I wanted for the stairs, so the rest of the scene (such as the trees) wouldn't be overpowered. Finally, it was triggered with pocket wizards.

Against the Wall

This photo was set up with an SB-900 with a full CTO gel mounted to camera left about 6 feet up. It was pumping at full power through a white 42" umbrella, just inside the archway between the columns. I wanted to get some nice, blue light coming in from the rest of the area, but dusk fell too quickly for me to get the look I wanted before the area was flooded by the ugly sodium lights in the walkways just out of view. This, too, was triggered via pocket wizards, important for this photo because I couldn't get line of sight needed to trigger via CLS.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

365/25 A Maker's Manifest

365/25 A Maker's Manifest

"In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed."
William S. Burroughs

I love old books. I've got hundreds of them, inherited from my family. Some of them I read, some of them I wrinkle my nose at. But the most powerful thing about these books is their aged bouquet. It's very distinct.

Take this one, for example. This was my Grandfather's Machinery's Handbook. It's dated 1943 and is the 13th edition, as far as I can tell from the publishing history, which dates back to 1913. The book was well cared for. It still has a waxed paper covering that he must have put on at some point to protect it. None of the pages are dog-eared. I've been through it several times and I can find no scribbled notes marring any of the pages. In essence, it's in pristine condition.

I've had this book for some fifteen years now and it's one of my most cherished books. It appeals to the geek, nerd, and engineer in me. I like paging through it and learning about different and useful tidbits of information. I don't know that I'll ever find a use for all of the information in this book, but I'm sure glad I have it handy. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I'll make sure to have this handy to help rebuild the nation.

You can't say that about just any 67 year old book, now can you? No, you can't.

365/24 A History of Viol ... err, Photography

365/24 A History of Viol ... err, Photography

"I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do - that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse."
Diane Arbus

So, I'm sitting here and, as I write this, Shutter is on the television. What a creepy movie about photography. It ranks right up there with Hard Candy. Ugh. Thinking about both movies just gives me the willies. The lesson? Don't be an idiot photographer.

But that's not what this is about.

As I mentioned the other day, I've been listening to this podcast about the History of Photography by Jeff Curto. I ended up pulling down the remaining episodes from last year's class so I could finish off the season and move onto this semester. I'm so very glad that my new iPod has a double speed play option. The last one didn't. There's just so much information to take in and I want to get through it so I can keep learning.

The annoying part of listening to the podcast is that I haven't yet found a way to bookmark interesting sections to come back to. There's been a few quotes that I've wanted to come back to and write about. Oh well. I'll figure it out or figure out some way around it I suppose.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

365/23 Ol' Jack Burton says ...

365/23 Ol' Jack Burton says ...

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?"

"Yessir, the check is in the mail."

Jack Burton Big Trouble in Little China

Ok. Yes, I have a fascination with Jack Burton. Arrogant, cocksure. A damn-the-torpedoes kinda guy. Sometimes you need to be live that in life in order to get through it. Not that I ever do such things in real life. Ahem.

But, it was time for a new mugshot and I wanted something that would give the appearance of self-assurity, the notion that when, as Jack Burton says, you're up against a wall and being stared down at by some 8-foot tall maniac, that you stare right back. Not so much a "no fear" attitude. It's the perception of knowing what you can live through and knowing that even though you're likely going to get hurt, that you're going to take a few people with you.

I knew what I wanted out of this photo. Dark and brooding me. I didn't want that spark of life showing up in my eyes. The light? Highly directional and layered just enough to give some depth in the darkness. Not sure I wanted to fully project Jack Burton here. When you see him, you see brash and vigor, lit up in all it's glory. Flashy and arrogant.

Now, while fun to poke at Jack Burton and my goofy reasoning behind wanting a new mugshot, the "real" reasoning behind it has to do with a podcast I've been listening to lately, History of Photography by Jeff Curto. He's a professor at College of DuPage. One of the things that stayed with me from the first few podcasts was the discussions about portraits when photography first came about.

We've come a long way from that era where a portrait may have taken tens of seconds to expose. More importantly, we've come from an era where photographs were rare; imagine living in a time where you didn't grow up with photography. Imagine not having photos of your family or not knowing what a city on the other side of the world looked like, save for someone's impressionistic painting. Photos captured reality. It was world-changing. You don't think about this today when you're bombarded with imagery from all points and angles.

The discussion just got me thinking about keeping a documented history of myself as I age. And this mugshot was the next in a long line of photos. But, unlike Jack, I'll still be paying my dues for some time to come. The check, still unwritten, will be in the mail. That's a promise.

Some technical details: SB-800 through 15" Lastolite Ezybox aimed straight down and overhead about 1 foot from my head to camera left at 1/32. The bare-bulb adapter was also on the 800 to help soften the light just a bit more. SB-800 to camera right and behind about 6 feet back and above. Snooted with some blackwrap. Triggered via CLS with the timer on the camera.

365/22 Lucky Number Thirteen

365/22 Lucky Number Thirteen

You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper is patient. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.

Catherine the Great

Sometimes finding the photo is sheer dumb luck. Sometimes it's covered in oil and grease and you walk across it everyday without ever noticing it. Sometimes you take the shot without really thinking about it. Sometimes you click and click and click, but never find the photo you're looking for.

I spent the afternoon looking for a photo, any photo, that inspired me. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zip. I'm not sure what caught my eye on this one. I walked right by it, stopped, walked back to it, and took the photo. One shot.

Something that was noticed the other day, is that my last few photos, from both the camera and the iphone, have had a repeated idea: angles drawing the eye into an exaggerated perspective and some sort of repeating constant. In this case, it's numbers on the floor. In other cases, it's been the square keys on a keyboard or the windows on a building.

I'm not sure why. It's just been happening that way. I could say that I planned it that way, but I'm not so sure. It's certainly not an active idea floating around my head. At least, not until the moment it was pointed out to me. I guess you could say it was sheer dumb luck up until that point. Then with this photo, I looked for it, however subconsciously that was.

Maybe it was luck. Maybe it wasn't. In the end, the photo still got taken and I got my idea for the day.

365/21 Zoom, zoom, zoom

365/21 Zoom, zoom, zoom.

"He moved in a way that suggested he was attempting the world speed record for the nonchalant walk."

Terry Pratchett

I'm behind in posting photos. Stuck in neutral again, trying to zoom all over the place. Nowhere fast, you know.


It is time to slow down, I think. Take this photo, for example. When I originally took it the other day, I had this notion of exposing life as this rush of activity wherein everyone is attempting to do more with less time. There's no stopping for a moment of breath, no standing still for the wind. I wanted to show this idea here.

The irony of the photo is that I had to stop and relax to take this. Stop and wait, stop and see, stop and anticipate. This got me thinking about the effort it takes to effectively flow through a project like this. The more I look at this photo, the more I realize that it's not recording the hustle of life, but the slow, 25 second flight of time's arrow. It's a two dimensional projection of a four dimensional event.

The more I look at this, the more I find the detail interesting. For example, the trail of the brake lights from the car in the lower half of the frame. You can see two things coming from that: the shape of the road (there's a dip in it) and the zone of safety coming up to the stop sign. You can see where the driver begins and ends his life's reliance on modern braking technology.

I was looking to record the snaking trail of the brake lights only. Got more than I intended. Plus, I love the little detail of red brake lights on the far right side. Must have been another car moving through that parking lot when I was focused on the roadway. Little details are the best. Especially when you have to slow down to see them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

365/20 I don't own her, I just open the can of food.

365/20 I don't own her, I just open the can of food.

Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.

Our sweet little cat. When she's not being a right pain in the ass. Everyday I encounter a reason to kick her out of the house. Everyday I find a reason, like this photo, to let her stay. I don't know if that makes me mean or a sucker. Probably both.

Our house is full of rescues and adopted pets. We lost one of them, a 17 year old golden retriever) to old age last year and it hasn't been quite the same. We swear we can hear her stretching and groaning while the sound of her collar tings as she shakes. Spooky.

The first two cats we got, we took from some neighbors. Their cat just had a litter. Well, it's not so much that we took them. It's more like they gave them to us before the kitten's had even opened their eyes. Net result, we had to hand feed them via bottle for the first two weeks we had them. Nothing like having to wake up at 3am to feed the kittens with little squeeze bottles.

We also have a german shepherd mix. He's the sweetest dog until you try to break into the house. He came damn close to ripping a guy's leg off once. That was an entertaining evening.

Our third dog was, literally, thrown at my wife's car while on the highway. Some !@#$ was chucking pups out of his truck. She tried to save them all, but he was the only one who made it. I keep joking that I should have named him Highway. My wife doesn't laugh.

The third cat is a beast. 75 pounds of pure, unadulterated, asshole cat with a sweet streak. Ok, maybe he's not THAT large. He's still a beefy kitty. Likes to muscle his way around the house, claws and all. The cat above still whips his ass despite being clawless and the runt of the house. It's entertaining how badly tilted the dominance roles are with those two.

I talk about my pets because they're part of the family. I miss them when they're not around. They provide entertainment when you're not expecting it and happiness when you need it.

And today, I learned that a friend lost his stallion of 30 years. I know what it's like to lose an animal after only a few years. It's heartbreaking. I can't imagine what he's gone through. 30 years is longer than most marriages these days.

Pets aren't replaceable. New ones may come along to fill a gap, but they're still going to have their own quirks and psychotic episodes. That's what makes each one lovable. And that's why I take photos of mine ... to remember that, while they're psycho, they can still live in the house.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

365/19 The Fountain

365/19 The Fountain

There's something about making someone's day. Often, it doesn't take much to do it. Just some small, considerate detail. Like this photo. I sent this to a friend this evening shortly after taking it. This is the Littlefield Fountain at the South Mall on the UT campus. She hasn't been to Austin in years, but recalls vividly one of her few evenings here, romping in and around the fountain. Only, she couldn't remember which fountain it was and I couldn't picture it when she originally described it.

Recently, she and I started corresponding again. She has some bad experiences going on in her life right now. To say the least. Tonight, it occurred to me that the fountain she was talking about was this one, so after work, I detoured my photowalk over to it and got a few photos with the iphone and the camera, intending to send her the phone copy and use the camera copies for my 365 tonight.

I sent it over to her via text. There was a long wait for a response. To put it simply, it gave her a needed smile. I like that. I like knowing that something I did put a smile on someone's face. Especially someone who's needed some happiness in her life.

Do something like this for someone in your life. It'll make you feel good. It'll make them feel good. A little good karma never hurts anyone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

365/18 Catch the Wave

365/18 Catch the Wave

"My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky."

William Faulkner

Ah, the Leatherman Wave. A tool that I rarely, if ever, leave home without. Much like the camera, really. Neither are ever more than a stone's throw from my hand really.

You can tell a well-loved tool by the marks upon it. You can see that it's been used and not babied. No, tools don't require tender, loving care. Quite the opposite. You need to be rough on them. You need to put them through their paces as often as possible, as quickly as possible, with fervor and glee. A good tool doesn't buckle under that load. No, it perseveres.

A common gripe about tools of today is, "they don't make 'em like they used to." That's quite true. There's a certain attention to detail that today's toolmakers seem to lack. Well, I don't necessarily blame the toolmakers themselves. Tools today are drop forged or hard punched from steel and ribbon. They're not zealously made by a craftsman who has jealously guarded his techniques that were passed to him via age old rituals only whispered in the dead of night. No, tools today are made by hook or by crook. Whatever gets it done on time, under budget, packed, stacked, racked, and sold to the lowest bidder.

I was at my dad's shop today. He does furniture restoration, amongst other things. He enjoys taking a broken and busted piece of furniture, knocking the rough spots off, and making it a workhorse of society again. He has a baby crib in the shop. Nothing overly expansive, just a simple and Quaker-ish. But, this wooden spindle-laden box on a rocker was over a century old. About as old has him and I put together. Talk about an everlasting gobstopper of toddler proportions! It wobbled a bit when it got to him, but he fixed it right up. It's an heirloom with a purpose now, not a dust collecting pile of tinder.

And that's what I want to see in tools today. I want to know that I can pick something up and without realizing that it's 40 years later, have something good and useable in my hand. The Wave might get there. I've had this one for about 8 years I guess. This is my second. I lost the first. It was a crushing defeat. You never want to leave a man behind ... or a tool. Especially a dependable one. But, as I recall, Leatherman makes their tools to last. This one has a 25 year warranty on it. That's staying power. The first Leatherman I ever had, I gifted to my father when the Wave came out. He used that one for three or four years. Accidentally cracked the blade off when working on a piece of furniture. Not a bloody easy task, I'll have you know. But, a galloping trip back to the manufacturer and it was fixed up without a question.

That's what I like to see. Especially in this throw away society.

Now, I don't know if I'll have my D300 twenty years from now. Or even ten. Digital just doesn't have the physical staying power of our grandfather's film cameras. But for now, it's my workhorse. It does what I ask it, no questions asked. Sure, the battery might whine a bit when it's low and over-abused. It might get a little wet now and then. But, pay that no mind. It's going to work until it no longer doesn't.

This idea of tools reminds me of a Johnny Cash song. Yeah. Me? Johnny Cash lover? Who knew? The song is The Legend of John Henry. A line about his hammer, in particular, is what comes to mind.

learn to hoist a jack,
learn to lay a track,
learn to pick and shovel too,
and take my hammer,
it'll do anything you tell it to.

And now, me and my camera are gonna go suck some wind. Let's see what waves we can catch.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

365/17 Into the light

In the Light

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

Edith Wharton

I love flash. I love flash in the same way that someone enjoys a good Tawny Port. Port is nothing you down in a single swallow. You have to let it sit and breathe. You must let it work it's magic on you, wrap you in it's warmth and subdue you. Flash does the same for me.

The problem with flash, like any other source of light, is that you have to control it or it spreads everywhere like a bad infection, going places you absolutely don't want it, lingering where it's not needed, and invading where it absolutely shouldn't be. Herein lies the need for light control. Now, there's a bazillion different tools out there that you can use to control light. Softboxes, umbrellas, tape, dead bodies, gobos, snoots. Whatever you have handy, really. I've seen light shaping tools made from bed sheets and isopropyl alcohol bottles. Empty, of course.

In this particular case, I wanted something more directional than an umbrella. I recently picked up a Lastolite Ezybox to have something in my gear box that could contain the light in one direction. I sort of like it. I'm still mixed on it. I think, for the locations I shoot, it tends to be too big still, even at 15" on a side. The closer I can get the light to my subject, the less power I need to light it. And therefore, the less bleed into the rest of the environment I'll get. There's still just a bit too much spread of light for my tastes with this box, but I suspect I'll get used to it once I shoot more with it.


I've been playing with two light setups recently. Main light from my softbox and a secondary snooted light to provide some key detail. I didn't use it in this particular photo because I'm finding that the light quality coming from the snooted flash just doesn't match my expectations when applied to skin. It's too harsh, which means I'm not softening it up enough. There's a lack of evenness to it that I get with the softbox. The first time I tried this earlier in the week, I thought it was caused by the regular aluminum foil I used to make the snoot. Very reflective. So, this time, I tried with black wrap and still got the same sort of light (only, minimally more subdued).

So, I guess I still get to play with this and figure out where I'm going wrong. I'm sure that once it clicks, I'll be much more willing to play with it and see where it leads me.

This photo must really be seen in a larger format to take in all the detail from the light as it wraps around my model and the rope. Please check it out on black in a larger size. I don't normally shot the lighting equipment in with the model, but for this one, I really liked the contrast of the stark white light source with the shape and texture of the rest of the scene.

365/16 Pork fat rules

365/16 Pork fat rules

If pork fat rules then, by implication, pulled pork is also awesome. It was another lazy day for us, all surrounding the crock pot. I have never before made pulled pork, so I felt now was as good a time as any. Now, any good and intrepid cook would likely do some research on what cut of meat to use, what seasonings work well with pulled pork, the best way to cook it. They would have gathered the top five pulled pork recipes that they could find coming from the best barbecue books available.

But I'm neither a great cook nor a very intrepid one. So doing all that just really isn't my style. Throwing caution to the wind, I went to the store with a singular plan in mind: get a pork butt roast and some beef broth. Pork butts are cheap. It's a meat that you want to cook low and slow. You want this kind of meat to melt like butter, basically.

And why a crockpot? I'm lazy. Plus, I don't really have a smoker out in the backyard that's worth a shit. And even if I did, I don't think I really wanted to tend to a cold fire all day, just to make some smokey, meat goodness. So, crockpot it was. Afterall, this was an experiment, not some grand contest to make the world's best barbecue. I know where my culinary limits are, thankyouverymuch!

So, into the crock pot it went. Since we were cooking it with the beef broth, I didn't want to give it TOO much seasoning. It'd just melt away into the broth. I wanted the seasoning to come in the final stage of cooking, where it would matter most. So, the pork butt went in, fat-side up. A nice layer of onion powder, garlic powder, kosher salt, pepper, and brown sugar was rubbed in. 6 hours of cooking later, I had a mass of pork that had to be spooned from the pot. Large spoons. Forks were just tearing it to bits. It was falling apart before our eyes. Even the bone came off with nothing more than a quick yank with some tongs.

The next step was to shred it. Two forks and some elbow grease later and I had five pounds of delicious meat, almost, but not quite, ready for devouring. The final seasoning was to come: more kosher salt, pepper, and now, some chili powder mix. I tend to season to smell. If I can begin to smell the seasoning, it's probably just about right. Taste for finesse.

The final component? The barbecue sauce! Two cups of it in my case. More or less depending on how wet you want your mix. We like ours pretty dry. You want the sauce in there to enhance the flavor of the meat, not cover it up like worcestersire on a piece of shoe-leather that once identified itself as steak. Mix it all up, shove it in the oven for half an hour to give it that final look of coming from a pit and you're golden.

Add bread to taste.

And remember: pork is delicious. Embrace it. Live it. Love it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

365/15 Gordian Knot

“Children and lunatics cut the Gordian knot, which the poet spends his life patiently trying to untie”

Jean Cocteau

I have this fascination knots lately. Well, not so much lately; I've had it for a few years now. I find that they're an interesting puzzle, both in formulation and decomposition. Coming upon a new knot just feeds the inner geek in me. It's a challenge to be presented with something new, something that must be figured out, something that must be undone, and something that must be rebuilt in the same way to undergo a complete understanding of it.

Now, knots have a curious tendency to work differently depending upon the medium under which they are tied and intricately woven. Take this rope, for example. There are two kinds here, both natural fibers. Jute, the natural color and hemp, the red and blues. They each have their certain interesting qualities, one of which is that they both hold a knot well. They have bite, something by which a knot's ability to hold fast to depends heavily upon. Jute is scratchy. It sheds. It's rough against the skin. Hemp, on the other hand, is heavier. Denser. To me, it's softer than jute. And there's a different smell to each. Jute reminds me of freshly cut grass.

But how is this important to photography?

Rope lets me play with puzzles, much like photography does. Understanding the way light maneuvers and positions itself upon a surface is something that one must play with like a Rubik's cube. You must get your hands upon it, twist it, push it, pull it, cover it up, and understand the way it moves in order to line up the way you want it to.

But, like knots and rope, light is funny. You think it's easy at first because you can directly see the manipulation. And then, it gets subtle. Like, when you layer light upon a scene. One light, one layer, one direction, one depth. Two lights ... added detail and quality. Subtle. Three? You're talking about the beginnings of a knot that can put Gordius to shame. Especially if you have no understanding of light and don't know the mechanics by which it works. Same thing with knots: if you have no understanding of the bight, the bend, the loop, the line, then it becomes difficult to unravel a rope with just a mental map of the outer layers of the knot.

One thing is certain: like knots, the more you play with light, the easier it becomes to manipulate and fold it to your needs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

365/14 Walk the Line

365/14 Walk the Line

“You've got to know your limitations. I don't know what your limitations are. I found out what mine were when I was twelve. I found out that there weren't too many limitations, if I did it my way.”

Johnny Cash

The man in black. He's one of my favorite musical artists. I don't quite remember when I first began my journey with him. I know it was some time after high school and well into my few college years before I picked up my first album. Well, it wasn't really an album ... a collection of hits is what it was. But it was enough to drag me into his music. The more I listened to him, the more I became enamored with his sense of style and grit.

Now, I'm not going to say something silly like "Johnny and I have so much in common". That just ain't true. But, I think, like any artist, we've both had our struggles to find our own way. I'm still figuring mine out. It's like sitting in a desert with a broken compass and worn out old map that's missing it's rose. The tools might not be great, but if you can figure out the quirks under which they come alive, you can pick a direction and get where you want to go.

Tonight, I was picking up a friend for dinner. She works downtown in one of the glass monoliths that dot the Austin skyline. It's $27 a day to park in the garage associated with the building. Highway robbery, I say. She made that mistake once, so now it's generally a bus each way. But tonight, I would be the pack mule and get us where we needed to go.

This building has always been a curiosity for me. Well, more-so the alleyway that goes right through it's center. There's not much space in it. Cars zip on through faster than they ought to. It's dark and dank, striped with yellow paint where you're supposed to park; most people seem to ignore it, turning this into a one-way rocket chute as people zip in one side looking for their passengers and zip out the other to circle back around the block.

Most of the people that come out of this building are dressed in business attire. Power suits, black and pressed. Maybe a tie that strikes a subtle, but fashionable chord. They'll walk up and down this alley trying to escape the building for another day. Me? I park illegally for a moment when I'm here because I don't like circling. I haven't had to deal with security yet, but I expect I will at some point.

It's an interesting vantage point for watching people come and go. Often, they don't notice you. Sometimes, you'll catch one peering right into the windshield. I've had one notice the camera. No smiles, though.

I'm not sure what kind of lighting is filling this channel: sodium vapor, metal halide, fluorescent. Sort of an ugly color, really. Yellowish-orange. Not quite tungsten. It's a sickening color. What caught my eye tonight, though, was the cool blue-white wash of light at the end of the tunnel coming from whatever lamp was sitting across the street. There wasn't much, if any, spill of this light into the tunnel. It was just too far away. But, I liked how the tunnel became this picture frame for the light just outside in the street. An odd-shaped and overly large frame, but a frame nonetheless.

I didn't really pay any notice to the ceiling until now. A black abyss, much like the obelisk in 2001. Makes you want to go poke it and see if the man in black emerges in the reflection to stare back at you.

In the meantime, I sit in the car with my broken compass and fragile map, trying to figure out what direction to go. Limitations say I need to go forward, just like every other gasoline consumer in here. But something makes me wonder, if I did it my way, what would happen if I want back?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

365/13 Don't throw me under the bus, bro!

365/13 Don't throw me under the bus, bro!

Well, I had planned on doing some flash work for today's photo, but I'm physically sapped. I feel like I was run over by this bus. And then, the driver was nice enough to back up over my bloodied body to make sure the job was completed.

Well, not really.

But I'm still worn out.

I did manage to finish Within the Frame last night. Only 5 days behind schedule for my 52 books in 52 weeks goal. I guess I'm falling behind. I'll need to work on that and catch up somewhere. VisionMongers is next.

But, for now ... I'm going to zonk out and get my energy back up for tomorrow. Definitely going to need it with the weather getting craptastical again. Wet with a chance of rain, they say.

Just what we need.

365/12 The world tends towards chaos

365/12 The world tends towards chaos.

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order”

Douglas Hostadter

I was talking to a good friend this evening and the topic of a mindset that comes about from the act of creation. A zen-like quality. As she put it, "doing anything intricate that requires attention to detail but not really too much 'thinking'." For her, it's painting and drawing. For me, it's photography on the artistic side and problem solving/programming on the nerd side.

Some people see it as an insanity, focusing so much on a single affair, so focused that your senses are unable to perceive anything but what's infront of you. It's creativity. Taking the chaos and forming it, sometimes into more chaos, sometimes into order.

Like this building. You look at it and see trash in a corner, open walls, dirt and rock. These things are arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason. Yet, I look at this and I see bits and pieces coming together and taking shape. That scrap might be the remains of a wall that was just put up. That trash might be the leftover bits that form a room, a place for people to meet and stir up their own chaos within.

I've watched this building go up, floor by floor, wall by wall. They put the roof on recently. Terra cotta tile. There's quite a bit of detail to photograph in the construction process. I've walked past this point quite a few times in the past weeks. What kept drawing me back to this image was the regularity of the lines.


An order in the chaos.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

365/11 Weekend at Bernie's

365/11 Weekend at Bernie's

[after Bernie's body flies over the balcony, looking like a high diver]

"I give it an 8.3!"

Weekend at Bernie's

Classes have not yet started on campus again, but students are slowly filtering back into the daily grind. I crossed paths with a few who were doing an evening job through the east mall. Walking about this evening, I came upon one of the building signs; this one was for BRB, otherwise known as the Bernard and Audre Rapaport Building. I'm not exactly sure what gets taught in here. History, I think. Maybe political science. I don't think I've ever been inside that building.

The sign was lit by the lamp post a few feet away. I don't really know what it was about the light that caught my eye. I got about 10 feet beyond it, stopped in mid-stride, and had to come back for a second look.

The shadow, I think. It was just right, the way the typography was embossed a bit by it. Or drop-shadowed. Whichever you want to call it. Whatever it was, the light and shadow mixed in this good-humored way that made you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Eleven days into this project and I'm already seeing very slight changes in my perception of the world. Some say I have a good eye for photographic composition and such. I don't know. Maybe it's true, but I just don't see it yet. Sometimes I look at something and just know that it needs to be shot. Only, it comes out like a steaming pile of horseshit when I get home and stare at it for a bit. Other times, it's just serendipity I guess. The muses are floating somewhere overhead with flutterbies and unicorns showering me with colorful ... well ... shit. Only this stuff is a bit more saturated, a bit less smelly, and comes out smelling like luck.

Ok, I don't really know what luck smells like, but I bet it's like marshmallows. You know, like Lucky Charms? Sweet and sugartastic.

Anyway, this change is subtle. I find myself paying more attention to what's around me and framing it mentally in a 4x6 to figure out if I want to capture it ... because, you know ... if you take a picture of it, it'll last longer. And in this photo's case, the more I look at it just because of the light, the more I notice some of the other detail ... the hard lines forming the squares, and rectangles, and diamonds. Now, to you they may all look off-kilter. Neither perfectly square nor perfectly upright.

But, I was there. I look at this and I see the sign in all it's glory. I see it rimmed by perfectly mounted windows. I see each pane of glass converging to build a panel of sand. And each one mounted on it's hinge so it may be swung open at a moment's notice.

And all the while, this sign, standing alone in the cold and under the stark light of a lamp. This lonely sign ... is covered in bird crap. But that's what makes it charming to me, the imperfections of something that has stood out amongst the mundane until, one day, you take a few steps back and look at it from a fading angle. Something different. Something new. All it takes is the right light to change the mood.

What sort of mundane things have you wandered across that have caught your eye because the light was right, the angle was right, the mood was right ... what was it?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

365/10 "Tripods make great weapons"

365/10 "Tripods make great weapons"

At least, that's what Trey Ratcliff thinks. Probably the best, insanely great take away from the talk tonight. He was back in town to give a presentation on HDR for the Austin Photography Group at Book People. It was fun and interesting listening to him talk. He's far more subdued and quiet than I expected, in all honesty. Well, really, I wasn't sure what to expect. Definitely fun and approachable.

I think the two other "most dramatic" things I pulled away from the discussion was the idea of blending an HDR image back with one of the originals. It wasn't obvious to me when I saw some of his images how he was doing things such as capturing the streak of a taxi through a scene that contained quite a bit of HDR detail in it. Now I know. It probably would help if I got the book and read through some of his tutorials online. It'd certainly make the HDR learning curve a bit shallower.

And second, the difference in his style is quite obvious from three years ago when he first started with his photography and today. It's much more finessed and subtle. Painterly, if you will.

Oh yeah ... the tripod thing. I realized this evening how right he was about needing a tripod. Not because I needed to fend of hoards of wild Austinites at the capitol grounds, but because hand-holding the camera at 1/20th of a second to try and get a stable HDR series just ... doesn't ... work. But, I was too lazy to go back to the car, so I made due. The more I get into the HDR style of shooting, the more I realize I need to get a much better tripod ... sooner rather than later.

The photo above is what I ended up with. Mostly, I wanted to play for a few minutes in the quiet and brightly lit solitude of the capitol shadow. Well, it certainly looked bright to my eye. Not so much on the camera. Still need to get into the habit of carrying around the tripod, no matter how craptastical it is.

Though, with my luck, my fingers would have frozen to the aluminum. It's still too damned cold in Austin. We need some warmth. Soon.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

365/9 Cheesy iPhone Photo

365/9 Cheesy iPhone Photo

It's official. I'm a sheep of the Cult of Steve. Bought my first iPhone today. 16GB 3GS one. I've been playing with it all day. More than anyone should play with anything (you've heard those warnings ... play with it too much and it'll fall off? yeah). It didn't take us long to get the old phone converted over. While we were there, my wife upgraded her Palm Pre to some Samsung smartphone thing. She's anti-iPhone, you see.

We ended up going out to Baby-A's afterwards for a bit o' grub. What a perfect way to test out the camera, right? I must say, for a cheesy cellphone camera, this thing does pretty well. No real blur whatsoever as long as you held it with a modicum of steadiness. The picture was good. The queso was better. Now you understand why I'm so far ... I love's me some queso.

So far, I've picked up the following apps:

  • Best Camera

  • PanoLab

  • Flickr

  • Google Earth

  • Strobox

  • iFolio

  • Planets - for getting sunrise/sunset data

  • Evernote

  • Remember The Milk

  • Flashlight

I also picked up some random free (and cheap) stuff, including Dragon Diction, Pandora Radio, Trapster, Urbanspoon, TweetDeck, and I am T-Pain (because I, too, want to be like T-Pain).

So far I haven't played much with Best Camera; just a few toy shots to see what it would do. I ended up pulling the queso photo into Lightroom to do some more work with presets I already have in place. Once I get more of the Best Camera stuff set up (like accounts and such), I'll start playing with it more. But so far, I'm liking it.

And with that, I shall go back to having the extreme number of nerdgasms that began the moment the iPhone dropped into my hand. And please ... no comments from the peanut gallery about glasses or hairy palms. I'm blind enough as it is without having to worry about that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

365/8 Behold ... BEER!

365/8 Behold ... BEER!

This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker and glory to his bounty by learning about... BEER.

Friar Tuck, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

It's Friday. Thank the heavens, the lords, the gods, the flying spaghetti monsters ... whomever makes you happy. It's been one of those weeks that I don't relish reliving, ever. EVER. And tomorrow? It will be 11 degrees in Austin.

Yes, you read that correctly. ELEVEN. This is what we have to look forward to tomorrow morning.

Tonight, though ... spent the evening having dinner and guinness with friends. A welcome and comforting end to the week. Laughter and catching up did abound. Good to see them. It doesn't happen often enough, unfortunately.

The bar was filled with color. Reds and oranges were abundant. We sat next to a shuttered window so we had a blue, diffuse light coming in from the sky as it filtered in through the shades. Mostly, I just like how blackhole of Guinness slapped right up front in the frame.

The beer, of course was delicious. As was the pizza. If you ever get a chance, check it out ... The Parlor on Guadalupe. Get one of the specialty pizzas. You won't regret it.

365/7 Burnt Orange, Defeated

365/7 Burnt Orange, Defeated

Bitterly cold tonight in Austin. I'm guessing it was in the 30's when I took this. All I remember was a finger falling off from the chill. I'll go back tomorrow morning and look for it. I left it somewhere on the east stairs under the tower.

And, if you didn't see Texas play tonight, you're lucky. Seriously, I'm not sure how it could have been worse during the first half. And a fumble, 3 seconds from half-time? Come on!

Ended up only watching about 20 minutes of the game. Turned it off when I began looking for things to throw at the TV. Which is funny when you consider that I don't really watch football. Go figure.

Now, I think I'll grab some shuteye. Maybe dream of a warm day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

365/6 It's just a banana. No, really.

365/6 It's just a banana.  No, really.

I'd like to say I have something pithy and worth note this cold winter's eve, but ... hey, it's just a banana. Abused, scraped, dropped, smushed, mushed, dying, dead, creased, poked, prodded, whithered, blistered ... but not peeled.

Just ... a banana.

It's a metaphor for today. Somewhere, somehow, life will open up and it'll still be sweet inside. Just like a banana. Until then, I'll be bruised and battered on the outside. Just like that banana.

I've been reading Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision this week. I'm about half-way through, devouring as many pages as my sleepy eyes can eat before nodding off to sleep. I've got a dozen post-it's scattered throughout the first half so far. Things that I wanted to remember, things that I wanted to come back and re-digest again and again. Just stuff that popped out at me like a wrinkled-up and abused banana. Something you don't forget seeing. Will post more about those things later. Maybe even a full book review by the end of the week. Who knows?

Until then, I'm going to go eat a banana. It's looking lonesome.

365/5 Her Last Picnic

365/5 Her Last Picnic

"The children of Margarite "Peggy" Campbell say only their mom would have had the audacity to ask ambulance drivers, recently transporting her from one nursing home to another, to go through the drive-in window of a Church's Fried Chicken."

San Antonio Express News

From my grandmother's obituary. The chicken incident happened last week. She passed away on New Year's Eve. I'd like to sugar coat what really happened last week, but ... it's not very important to anyone outside of the family.

I'm saddened by how the family has reacted to everything leading up to this, but grateful that my grandmother no longer has to put up with it.
Spent the afternoon listening to some Johnny Cash to try and keep my mood stable. You know it's going to be an interesting evening when you arrive to a memorial service and outside are stationed three police officers. The family will never be the same again. And frankly, I'm not sure it can.

I'll miss you, Grandma. At least you got your last fried chicken picnic, as requested.

[Aside: I thought long and hard about whether or not to post this photo for today. In the end, I did it because this was the memorable event of the day, even if it was the hardest to do. It's the right thing to do to help me remember her.]

Monday, January 4, 2010

365/4 Urban Warrior

365/4 Urban Warrior

"To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on."

Chaucer, A Knight's Tale

That's what he did when he emerged from a low bush not 10 feet from me as I walked towards car. We were both trudging, really. He towards safety, me towards freedom. The day has been long for both of us. We weary of the days toils and watch carefully for the predators soaring overhead.

I decided to introduce myself to the little man crossing my path. We stopped and looked at each other. No, not just looking ... staring each other down, visually testing each other's mettle.

There's a scene from Hero that keeps playing through my mind. You know which one I'm talking about. Nameless and Skye are facing each other in the courtyard, rain slowly pelting them. They stare at each other, pre-visualizing the impending fight, watching each subtle move of the other, until defeat is determined before a blow is ever struck. The movements are in slow motion, exacting and unforgiving.

This was the stare that was going on between us, this little guy and I.

He saw his defeat when I struck the first chord of the shutter. The only thing he could do was attempt a retreat, snail-like and massacred by failure. I gave chase, but only to record and preserve. He dodged into the brush, where, moments later, the photo was captured and he was left in peace.

I last saw him turn to look at me. I swore he winked.

And returned to my trudging I did.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

365/3 Breakfast at Tiffany's

365/3 Breakfast at Tiffany's

"Of all the lessons in life that I've learned the hard way, the ones involving frontal nudity and hot bacon grease seem to be the most enduring"

Sunday morning sleep is sacrosanct in my home. It's my recovery day, a day of peace and rest, laziness and excess. The kids know to wake up and get their own breakfast. They're generally pretty good about it, fetching themselves cereal or toast. Sometimes with strawberry jam, if we have it stocked in the refrigerator.

But, when I wake up, I want something hearty. Something that doesn't come out of a pre-packaged box. It must combine all the goodness of caffeine to awaken me, syrup to sweeten the mood, and a saltiness that is divine. And where best to have those three luscious ingredients but in a filling Sunday morning banquet of flapjacks, joe, and fried bacon goodness.

The pancakes must be buttermilk. Nothing but the lightest and fluffiest, covered in butter. For a twist, throw in some sliced strawberries. (Strawberries? I sense a trend in the house ...)

The coffee? I love my coffee. It must be ground fresh. None of this Folgers crap for me. I have to want to bury my nose in the grounds and huff it like a street junkie on Krylon (brown, if you please). Each cup must be delicately floated with half-and-half. Or whipped cream. And sugared like a white powdered donut. In other words, light, sweet, and delicious. Like cake.

And finally, the bacon. Thick cut, if you please. Not overdone. Burnt, I mean. I like it crispy, but chewy. Not too much meat, not too much fat. I want it to dissolve in my mouth like a thin slice of proscuitto. Only, with that rich pork fat kick that only comes with the sautéing in a heavy skillet.

And if there's anything you absolutely, positively must do on a Sunday morning such as this? Fancy yourself some clothing when slapping that first strip of bacon onto the griddle.

Trust me. You'll thank me.

365/2 800 RPMs and Going Nowhere

365/2 800 RPMs and Going Nowhere

I'm so amped up from this New Year's weekend. It's felt like one long party. Sitting at a stoplight, waiting for the light to go green, on my way to the next exhaustingly fun moment of the weekend. And now, I feel like I'm spinning my wheels going nowhere while the adrenaline wears off.


Yeah, that's the feeling.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

365/1 Double Vision

365/1 Double Vision

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."

Jonathan Swift

Double vision is the art of seeing what the drunken mind cannot focus upon. Or something like that. I've been watching the photo streams of a few 365 projects on Flickr for the last few months. Well, not so much watching ... but staring at with abandon, noting the subtle and progressive changes in style and vision from day 1 to day 365. Inspiring, really. And it's been making me long for a new project.

I made my first attempt at a photo-a-day project in two years ago, today, actually. I didn't get very far into it before I lost interest. 68 days from the look of it. I got stuck. Plain and simple. On the 69th day, I just didn't have it in me, so I chose not to take a photo. And the same occurred on the day after. And then the day after. And the day after. I slowly sank in the quicksand of artistic blah and couldn't make my way out.

2009 was a different year for me artistically. I had some good, but simple projects going on, but the loss of the studio space was a major blow to my creativity. The studio, however much of a crutch it became, was a constant reminder that I should shoot. I knew that I had to shoot at least four or five times a month to make it profitable to me, not only monetarily, but artistically. I needed it there to keep the vision going.

But, I lost it. The studio was gone and so was whatever real willpower I had to kick myself in the ass to go out and shoot.

2010 will be different. This is my goal. I want to see the beginning and the end of my 365 days of photography, much like the others I've been pouring through the last few weeks. New Year's Day is a natural beginning point for it and this time I won't squander it.

Of course, I say this with a plastic cup in my hand, filled with the wonderfully creamy contents of a Black Cow. Or Dead Cow. It's "Something" Cow. I know that. It's tasty. And I knew enough to remember to take my first photo of 2010 before I let the mooing creation lull me to sleep.

And here it is. Unfocused. Double vision. Imperfect in every way. Now let's see where this goes.

[And if you're following at home, if you see that I've fallen behind on my 365, feel free to kick me in the ass. Sometimes we all need a bit of bottom-of-the-boot encouragement to keep with our goals.]