Monday, September 8, 2008

The Year of Fog

The Year of Fog The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
... this is what I know: There is a girl, her name is Emma, she is walking on the beach. I look away. Seconds pass. I look back, and she is gone.

These words are the chorus, the repeated motif of The Year of Fog, an intense exploration of every parent's nightmare come true. Except Abby isn't Emma's mom, but her father, Jake's, fiancee, which makes even worse for her. We live inside Abby's search for Emma, her obsession with finding Emma, driven by her guilt at having looked away at the critical moment. Abby's and Jake's lives are broken and reshaped over the coming year under the pressures of searching, not knowing, despair and hope.

It's a mystery story, related intimately from the inside, but it is also a deep look into the nature of memory; of forgetting and not being able to forget; of real memory and false memory; of how memory changes no matter how we wish to hold onto it; of how memory makes us who we are.

Abby is a photographer. She laces the story with insights into the nature and practice of photography, and how we try to preserve memory in photographs. She sees the world with a photographer's eye, layering it with texture and detail.
Here then is my error, my moment of greatest failure. ... a shape in the sand caught my eye. ... By instinct I brought my camera to my eye, because this is what I do —I take pictures for a living, I record the things I see.
There were times I didn't want to pick this book back up, when I needed to set it down and just breathe. But I also couldn't put it away. I needed to know the ending. When the climax came, suddenly and unexpectedly, I found my heart pounding and my hands shaking, as strongly as if I, myself, were Abby and not just the reader, not just the voyeur.

Read this book. Read it when life is smooth, when you can afford some fear and questioning. Read it at a time when you can look up and see your children safe and nearby. But read it.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dancers at Top of the Park

I've been working on photographing people, trying to capture something of their essence, their emotion; people doing, people being; people alone and people in community. So much of my photography is of places, things and events; details and vistas; "I saw this", "I was here". I'm uncomfortable pointing my camera at people I don't know. So, I do it; I practice. And sometimes I like the results. My hope is that this happens more and more. Even more, I hope to someday see stories like the one in my last photograph, below, as they're unfolding.

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival's Top of the Park features free concerts every night for several weeks in June. People come out to listen, to visit with their friends, to eat and drink, and to dance. I brought my camera. My camera found the dancers. I'd like to share a few of my favorites with you here.

Let's dance

It was getting kind of dark, and I had to slow down the shutter. Most of my photos from this time were hopelessly blurred, but this one caught the action of the dance. I cropped it a little and brightened the colors just a touch.

This couple was dancing gracefully, seemingly in their own bubble, as the crowd swirled around them. My challenge was to try to pull them out of the crowd photographically. To reduce the distraction of a multicolored background, I converted it to black and white. Simulating a yellow filter hightens skin tones and blends the street sign into the background. Contrast adjustment and significant edge sharpening help pull the dancers forward.

And, then there are the young folk. What they may lack in practice, they totally make it up in enthusiasm. I pumped up the orange and green here a bit, but this guy doesn't really need any extra snap.

Cadillac Cowboys at Top of the Park
Ok, he's got no form, but he's having fun!

These two girls clearly knew what they were doing. I liked the twin verticals of them with the bell tower. Again, black and white treatment helps to reduce the distracting background colors. I did lose the nice orange sunset light on the tower, but it's a reasonable trade-off. I'd like to paint out the guy in the "M" shirt, though.

This one absolutely had to be in color. This young woman's outfit took me back 40 years. She's even got a guitar slung behind her back. Of course, in 1968 we wouldn't have been dancing like that.
The photograph needed a lot of work to make the colors pop out like they appeared to do in real life. You can click through to the Flickr page to get the gory details.

i wish...
I've saved my favorite for last. It tells me a story, and it's a story that I didn't see when I was taking it. I was just trying to get a picture of the woman doing a spin with flared skirt. What I got was even better. Until I started editing the photo, I did not see the girl on the left. When I did, I realized that the picture is only peripherally about the dancers. It's really about her. It's about her wish that she could be that young woman, dancing and spinning.

To tell that story, I cropped out the man's face and part of the woman's. They're not the subjects -- they're the objects of the girl's desire. Again, black and white reduces irrelevant distracting details. Some contrast adjustment and edge sharpening help focus attention on the only complete person still in the frame, and on her longing gaze.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Has it really been 10 years?

It's been a good 10 years.

Leopold Brothers Brewery and Distillery closed after a rousing last night on Saturday. Nomo rocked the house for "Last Call at Leopold's." They're pulling up stakes, giving up brewing, and moving to Denver as a distillery. But it won't be the gathering place there that it was here.

I met Scott and Todd in 1998, shortly before they opened. I was biking past, and stopped in, to welcome them to Ann Arbor (Colorado transplants that they were), and to see what they were putting in to the old auto parts store. It was to be a German-style beerhall, with an organic, low-waste brewery and hydroponic greenhouse (using water from the brewery.) The bar and tables were even built from reclaimed wood. They got two out of three -- the greenhouse never came to fruition. But the brewery used a fraction of the water per batch of most breweries, and the ingredients were always organic.

AntlerierThere was always something special, to me, about that space. It was large, noisy, and dim. It was often smoky. But it was also somehow cozy and welcoming. The long tables encouraged conversation, while a secluded nook with couches was great for curling up with a good book and a beer.

I think it was the people who put the finishing touch on it, for me. I was always welcomed with a smile, and often by name. Even when the place was hopping, the service was friendly, never snappish. It was a place you could spend 10 minutes or several hours. It holds many memories.

Election night, 2000. Greens and Republicans shared the space. Instead of sports, the TVs were all tuned to the election returns. Some of us cheered as Florida went for Gore. Then moaned as it went back to "undecided." I left before it was over (as it wasn't over for a long time, that year.)

One night, before they had to stop putting on live shows because of the neighbors' complaints, I watched and listened to a local "punk" band. The singer was young and skinny with no shirt (emulating an earlier Ann Arbor punker perhaps?) As I watched him get caught up in the music, watched it jerk him around with his limbs flailing in rhythm, I wondered "could that be my son in a few years?"

A Michigan-Notre Dame game. It was a sunny fall day. The crowd kept getting thicker, as Notre Dame fans, unable to score a ticket, walked up Main St and into the first bar they found. Eventually, the door was closed. That big room was full, at capacity.

The marriage of friends on a Saturday morning. The large hall temporarily turned into a wedding chapel. Later, music by iPod and dancing on the concrete floor. Lunch at the beerhall tables, with old friends and new.

Another football game -- Michigan & Ohio State. I was sitting at the bar between a Michigan fan from Cleveland and an Ohio State fan from Columbus. I bet the Ohio fan a beer at half time. I lost, as did our team. But in the end, that didn't matter to me; the time spent making new, temporary friends did matter. We'll probably never run into each other again, but for those few hours, we were a community.

What else do I look back on? An evening with a book and a beer. TGIF with friends from work -- brews and pizza, games and conversation. Late night, sharing a beer with the bartender, now off work. Scrolling through the best jukebox selection in town, trying to pick out just seven songs. Sitting in the beer garden with a cool wheat beer.

Scott was the "front of the house" man; Todd was the brewer. German-trained, he started out making unfiltered lagers, giving them names like "Red", "Black", and "Landbier". He refused to be pinned down to our beer-geekish stylistic preconceptions. It was from Todd that I learned to enjoy the fresh, sulfury taste of a newly brewed lager beer. At first I would say "I'll come back in a couple weeks, when this has mellowed." But later, I relished it; looked for the extra edge it gave to the malt and hop combination.

The place wasn't perfect; the beer wasn't always the best; the smoke drove me nuts, and kept me away sometimes. But I'm going to miss them. Nowhere else in town does it quite the same.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

May Challenge Week 1 Day 1

The May 2008 Challenge is to photograph a single object each day for a week. Each week has a different object theme. The week 1 theme is "beverage." I chose seltzer (sparkling water).
Sparkling water - May 08 challenge week 1 day 1

I placed the flash behind and to the left of the glass, opened up the aperture to limit the depth of field, and set the shutter speed to the minimum to eliminate the background. I probably should have mounted the camera on a tripod to "lock in" the focus, and a little more depth of field would have been good. I pumped up the contrast and "clarity" somewhat in Lightroom. I wish I could have kept the glass from fogging up, but I'm reasonably happy with the result. It is the best of about 20 exposures.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Real" community becoming virtual

A while back, I wrote of my experience with an online/virtual community becoming physical/real. Another community in which I participate started out "real" and added an online/virtual extension. The A2B3 group (stands for Ann Arbor Bi Bim Bap), started out as a small group, dedicated to sampling all the bi bim bap variants at restaurants in Ann Arbor. (I wasn't part of it then.)

Its physical incarnation is now a weekly lunch, meeting every Thursday at the Eastern Accents restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Usually between 20 and 30 people attend the lunch. Some are regulars and some show up only occasionally. We range over many professions, ages, and lifestyles, but most of us have some connection with technology or the internet. We do a lot of informal "networking" as we eat our bi bim bap or stir fry or pork buns. Each week, the convener and originator of the group, Ed Vielmetti, asks us to introduce ourselves and to answer a question. The question might be as seemingly trivial as "what do you always carry with you?", or as thought provoking as "what is an important question in your field?" In this way, we come to know each other better.

My photograph for week 13 of the 2008 weekly photography challenge tries to capture the aspects of food and community inherent in the lunch gathering. The focal point is a bowl of bi bim bap (I did not pose the chopsticks!) surrounded by other remnants and reminders of our repast. Behind the bowl we see Ed's hands, poised to take notes as we introduce ourselves around the table. The group is suggested by the unfocused hands and torsos in the background.

The "virtual" community is held together by a mailing list, hosted on Yahoo groups, with over 250 members. Some members of the group participate only through the list, as they no longer live in Ann Arbor. As with the lunch, most of the email conversation is quotidien, such as a recent exchange on blogging software. Sometimes we get into a more interesting conversation, such as one prompted by an email titled " - Sociopathy as a Corporate Culture?"

Why am I part of this community? For many reasons, some of which I only dimly understand. Most simply, I need to eat, and I'd rather have interesting conversation with interesting people while doing so. From a perspective of personal advantage, I might need to find a new job some day, and the more personal/professional connections that I make, the more quickly I'll find a good one. I can focus pretty narrowly on what is happening in my life and work, so talking with and listening to people who are doing very different things helps me to broaden my perspective and stay connected with the "rest of the world." I've learned of new trends, products, and communities, some of which I've become further involved with (and some not -- I just don't "get" Twitter, for example.)

The weekly "real space" meeting with members of the group keeps me connected with the larger "virtual space" group, many of whom I've only "met" in cyberspace. The online group gives us a larger community, and one in which I don't have to strain my ears to hear what is being said several seats down the table. It's a winning combination.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Jump-starting Creativity

Thanks to Brian Kerr for this link. Watch it.

Move from zero to one.

Don't just sit there.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nick's first concert

Last night (March 15), my son Nick played his first public gig. He was the opening act in a show at the Neutral Zone's "Side B" venue. If you're not familiar with the Neutral Zone, it is a fantastic resource for teens in Ann Arbor. Quoting from their web site, "The Neutral Zone is a diverse, youth-driven teen center dedicated to promoting personal growth through artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas."

I'm not exactly sure what to call his music. It's definitely electronic, and mostly danceable with a heavy beat. On his computer, he has pre-created instruments and patterns for them to play. He can activate instruments using the computer keyboard, and can control volume and tone (and perhaps other parameters) using the knobs on his control box. Thus, it is very much a live performance, with him acting, in effect, as composer and conductor of a multi-instrument electronic orchestra.

I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph him and the surroundings. From approximately 100 shots, I selected about a dozen to share. You can watch the slide show, below, or you can click through to the set on Flickr if you want to see them larger.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Because I knew that the color of the lighting would be odd, and that the venue is fairly dark, I shot in "raw" mode. That way I had the greatest flexibility in adjusting color balance and a few extra bits to pump up the exposure if I needed it. I used my f/1.8 50mm lens exclusively because of the low lighting conditions.

I "processed" the pictures using a trial copy of Apple's Aperture program. I have to say, it's pretty slick. It let me work directly with the RAW files, exporting JPEG for Flickr. I'm sure it's got a lot of power that I haven't even touched yet, so more experimentation is in order.