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.

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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.

couple
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.

rockin'
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!

twist
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.

psychedelic
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.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Has it really been 10 years?

red
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.

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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.

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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.)

a2b3
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 "GoDaddy.com - 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.

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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.

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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.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

February challenge, retrospective

Overall, this was an interesting challenge. It was fun picking a color and then finding it throughout the week. As with any such challenge, some weeks worked better than others. Ironically, I think that the "white" week came out well, despite the fact that the white is all from snow, and that I did it at the last minute. Purple was the most fun, and the longest premeditated (and also the shortest week).

I've included a "slide show" of the month, including some alternative choices that didn't make it into the final cut.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

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Finishing the February Challenge: White

It was snowing. It was late at night. So, naturally, I took my camera and tripod and embarked on a photo expedition to the snow covered campus.

bicycle storage?

My color pick for the 5th week of February is the "non-color", white. To be honest, the choice was almost forced upon me when I realized on Friday that I hadn't done any of my week 5 photos, yet. Thank goodness for leap year, or I would have missed the week altogether!

Amy and I attended a funtastic concert by Bill Kirchen at the Ark, Friday night. I had intended to bring my camera, but forgot. Oh, well. When we came out after the concert, it was snowing, great huge flakes, coming down thickly. Oh! I wanted my camera. I figured, "Ok, we'll drive home, I'll grab the camera, and get back into town to take some neat shots of lights in the snow." Or something like that. Of course, by the time I got home, called the kids (who were on a trip with their grandparents), walked the dog, etc., etc., the snow had stopped.

But, I still needed my photos for the challenge. I loaded the camera, lenses, and tripod into the car and set out for campus. I started at the law quad, worked my way up to the "diag", to Ingalls Mall, and back by way of Hill Auditorium. With all that newly fallen snow, what color could I pick other than white?

When I saw the bike "storage" area by Mason Hall, with all the bikes in the snow, I knew I wanted a picture of it. It amazes me that these (expensive) bikes are just left out in the snow like this. I tried several different angles, and the one above was my favorite. Yes, it's a cliché but I like it.

blowing snowAs I was walking, it would snow a bit from time to time. It never got as thick as the earlier snowfall that had inspired me, but I did manage to capture the blowing snow in floodlights. You need to view that one large and on black. There's a lovely texture resulting from the long exposure and the moving flakes.

blowing snowThe last photo may be a bit of a cheat for a "February Challenge", but I've been wanting to do a snow blower picture all winter. The next day was lovely and sunny and there was 6 to 8 inches of new snow to move. There's nothing quite as white as freshly fallen snow. A fast shutter speed stopped the snow in mid-air.

One of the hardest parts of this week in the challenge was choosing only 3 from among my favorites. I included some others in the photo set on Flickr.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

February Challenge, Week 4: Green

Week 4 is dedicated to green. I got the idea from a friend's cubicle — she had tacked up fabric over the panels, put in some plants and a rug, resulting in a bamboo-like theme. I took a photo, but I ended up not using it.
greenery
Obviously, a green theme needs some plants, which I found "growing" in the lobby of my workplace. The red stem formed a focal point, and shallow depth of field gave me a nicely variegated green background.

why green?This green pillar stands in the middle of the cube farm in which I work. As you can see, the basic color theme is beige, but someone thought we needed a splash of color in the middle. Since we couldn't get rid of the column, they painted it this "lovely" olive green.

I wanted to accentuate the color contrast of the column with the rest of the office, so I found a vantage point where very few cubicle decorations were visible, and filled about 2/3 of the frame with the column. The highlight on the dark side added some depth, and I positioned myself to take advantage of it.

Starbux greenAnn Arbor has about 30 coffee shops (or so it seems). Until a few years ago, none of them were Starbucks, but they did move in, eventually. Apparently, the function of a coffee shop in a college town is to provide an alternative study location to the library. Personally, I'd prefer one that offered free wireless connections, but maybe the brand name attraction is just too strong to resist.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

2008 Challenge, Week 4

Rackham Graduate School

All graduate students at the University of Michigan are officially enrolled in the Graduate School, no matter what department they may be working in. The building houses the offices of the graduate school as well as a large auditorium, which hosts various visiting speakers throughout the year. There are also nicely appointed study rooms.

Horace Rackham gave the money to build it, and specified that it must face the university library with no obstructions between the two. A nice pedestrian mall runs the several blocks between Rackham and the library.

I really wanted to take this shot in the light of the setting sun. Alas, I set out a few minutes too late. I did get a nice shot of the Ann Arbor Google office sign in the warm sunlight as I was on my way.

It was a cold evening (about 15F) so I didn't want to linger long. I found a position that silhouetted the building against the sky color, waited for a pedestrian to get out of the frame, and took a couple of shots.

Nite Flight - #176 - July 6, 2007I tried straightening the perspective convergence out, but the result looked really weird, so I left it alone. The wide angle and converging lines make the building loom majestically. It's really a more welcoming place than it appears in this bleak midwinter photograph. In the summer, for example, it serves as the backdrop for the Summer Festival's free "Top of the Park" concerts, with colored lights brightening its stone facade.

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February Challenge, Week 3: Orange

colorful conduitFeb's third week started with spotting a reel of tri-colored conduit next to the street. Some outfit (I think AT&T) is pulling fiber along a number of main streets in town. With this photo, I could go with orange, green, or blue as my color of the week.

The next "color event" of the week came a few days later. I was walking to the parking lot after a long day at work. It was snowing. I came to a group of orange construction barrels, under an orange street light. The choice then became clear — my color for this week would be orange! I stopped, took off my backpack, pulled the camera out of the pack, and took several photos, trying to capture at least one of the blinking lights. As you can see (after the break) I succeeded.

Construction in February

Having chosen orange, I faced the challenge of finding another orange photo that did not involve construction. That very evening, the opportunity arose as I was preparing veggies for a "pot roast". My son's girlfriend is vegetarian. The first time she was at the house at dinner time, I didn't know this, and I had prepared a pot roast with a nice hunk of beef and lots of veggies. I ended up serving her bread and cheese (good bread and good cheese, but still...)

veggies to be pot-roastedThis time I roasted the beef separately from the veggies, so the omnivores can eat them together and the vegetarians can just skip the meat. I added finely chopped mushrooms for their flavor enhancing umami character. It came out pretty well. To my taste, not as good as veggies roasted with the beef, but still quite good. (Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and onions can be seen here.)

As I was preparing the original conduit photo to upload to Flickr, I wanted to emphasize the orange conduit and de-emphasize the green and blue. So I bumped the saturation a little and then applied a "warming" filter to tone the blue and green down and to make the orange glow a little brighter.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gotta brag

I'm stoked!

I do the New York Times crossword online almost every evening. They have a feature where you can time yourself against other solvers. I'm usually in the top 10-20% on Monday (the easiest day) and I fall further back in the pack as the puzzles get harder throughout the week. Part of that is because significantly fewer people solve the Saturday puzzle than the Monday puzzle. At least, that's what I tell myself.

They have a standings list for "fastest" and for "first". "First" is the order in which you finished, regardless of when you started. I've made the top 10 list in "fastest" a few times, but I always fall off by the end of the day. I think I made the top 10 list in "first" once. Today, I had my best ever showing on both lists, solving the Sunday, March 2 puzzle (which is put online at 6PM on Saturday).

How well did I do? I placed 5th on "Fastest" at the moment I finished. Yes, I'll fall down in the list, but it still feels great. I placed 7th on the "First" list, and that ranking is mine to keep for the rest of the day. I've never done that well on either list before.

Before you click on "more", be aware that the rest of this posting contains spoilers for the puzzle (including the entire puzzle as a screenshot.)

How did I do so well? Well, part of the reason is that this is the weekend of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, so many of the really fast solvers are busy at the tournament instead of solving the puzzle online. The other part is that I just "clicked" with this puzzle. I was able to work it from top to bottom, switching back and forth between across and down answers, and hardly had to go back to fill in words I didn't get the first time through. I "got" the theme pretty quickly, and that helped me with those answers, too.

Here's the proof: Completed puzzle, showing my "fastest" time.


The theme was kinda cute: In each theme phrase, one letter is "moved forward" in the alphabet from a familiar phrase to create a "wacky" phrase, which is then clued. Most of the time it's the first letter of one of the words, but a few times it's another letter. There are an astounding 13 of them, and most of them are pretty good. Here they are:

1A KOOL BID (Offer for an R.J. Reynolds brand?) from KOOL-AID
29A DADDY SHACK (Papa pad?) from CADDY SHACK
38A GOOD FATS (Canola and sunflower oil?) from GOOD EATS
41A STAR HAZER (Best fraternity pledge tormentor?) from STAR GAZER
52A JV DRIPS (Not the most exciting school athletes) from IV DRIPS
56A LEG PARTY (Social gathering with the Rockettes?) from KEG PARTY
68A NIXED DRINKS (Got sober?) from MIXED DRINKS
83A SPY BEANS (C.I.A. noggins?) from SPY BEAMS
85A POP RUIZ (Hit boxer John with a haymaker?) from POP QUIZ
93A SWISS MIST (Fog in Zürich?) from SWISS MISS
96A MILK DVDS (How-to films for a dairy farm?) from MILK DUDS
104A LOX PROFILE (Side view of salmon?) from LOW PROFILE
126A COPY BOZ (Transcribe some Dickens?) from COPY BOY

Anyway, I just had to brag.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

February Challenge, week 2: Yellow

test patches?This set of paint spots on a building across the street from work inspired me to go with yellow for the second week of the February challenge. I figured I'd have no trouble finding at least two other yellow-themed photo opportunities.

I futzed a bit with the composition of this one. I wanted more than just the paint patches, centered in the frame. I decided to try to pull in the yellow of the stairway, visible through the window in the upper right. I also wanted as little perspective distortion as possible, so I needed to shoot pretty much straight on. I liked the drip from one of the patches, and I didn't like the black marquee overhanging at the top left. Thus, I was fairly constrained, but I still like the result. I could do without the reflection of the tree in the window; it adds a jarring textural element, contrasting to the delicious industrial metal texture of the wall. Painting it out might be possible, but I'll live with it.

yellow leashAlthough the paint patches inspired the color choice, I didn't have my camera with me when I saw them. So this is the one I took first. This leash was a lone spot of color on a gray afternoon at the dog park. Just as I prepared to take my picture, the wind gusted and blew the leash into the diagonal loop that you see here. Although it was cold, it makes a nicer composition than it would have made hanging straight down.

I considered a photo of the other spot of yellow nearby, in the snow at the base of the fence. But then I thought better of the idea. What do you think? Should I have used that instead?

yellow squash
My final yellow selection was this spaghetti squash. I bought the squash at the farmers market, from one of the orchardists. I guess they were branching out into vegetables.

A cast iron skillet provides a contrasting background (if not quite large enough) under the warm halogen light of my range hood. After taking the picture, I chopped up the squash, cooked it, and we had it with dinner.

Yellow is a nice sunny, warm color for a cold February week.

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Why Blog?

Greg asks "why do we blog?" Well, that's a good question. I started this blog more as a means of self exploration than in the expectation that lots of people would read it. (I'd say that my "stats" bear out that non-expectation.) But a few people did start reading it, especially when I started branching out from my initial "navel-gazing."

So what did I do then?

Actually, what I did then was to stop writing for a while. I think it was just a coincidence -- that I got busy, didn't have time, wasn't getting enough sleep, etc., etc. I think I was running out of things to say within the boundaries I had originally set.

Greg says blogging is about "staying connected." Yes, but it's an odd sort of "connectedness." Connection through my blog is both more personal and less than the sort of connection I get through Flickr. It's more, because I'm revealing more of myself. It's less, because the Flickr community starts with a common interest — taking pictures, and because some of us are able to turn that common interest into human contact (in "meat space," as the idiom has it.)

And, at least to this old-timer, online connection is really no substitute for direct human interaction. Sure, there are some blogs, like Seth Godin's, which I'll read for insight, but there are others that I read because I already have a connection with the writer. Their postings illuminate and strengthen my already existing relationship, and are of interest because of that.

Why do I blog? Partly as a journal, as an experiment in translating my daily experience into writing. Partly to communicate with family and friends. And, partly in the hope that something I say here might resonate with someone I haven't met yet, someone who could be a friend if we only connected.

So, yes, it's about connection. With myself. With you, my friends and family. And maybe, with the world.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

2008 Challenge, Week 3

Main Street
Main Street, Ann Arbor, at night. The holiday lights in the trees add warmth to the winter streetscape. It was about 5F when I took the photo. I'm sure the passersby thought I was nuts.


Ann Arbor has 3 "downtown" areas. Main St. is almost exclusively "town", and has lots of restaurants and arty stores. State St. is a mix of town and gown, with (of course) restaurants, book stores, and clothing stores. South University St. (South U) is very much gown, with businesses targeted mostly at students.

For this shoot, I headed out with tripod and camera, getting downtown a bit before 11. The streets weren't too busy, probably because of the cold more than the lateness of the hour. I set up on the corner, tried to frame to get the tree lights and some interesting buildings, and started shooting. I stopped down to f/22 so that I could use a 2.5 second exposure and get some car light trails. The greater depth of field from the small aperture was also a plus. The camera was set on its minimum ISO setting of 200 to get as long an exposure as possible.

I took several shots from this position, experimenting with when to take it vis-a-vis where the cars were, trying to get the best looking light trails. As you can see, it was windy, and some of the tree branches were whipping back and forth, leaving their own trails.

I moved to a couple of other positions — one further up the street (behind the camera in this shot) and one at the other end of the block. I liked this view the best of the three. As I was walking down the street, I saw a person waiting in front of the the Ark. I quickly set up the tripod and snapped the photo below. I really like the mood.
The Ark

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Virtual community becoming real

olive swims upstream
"Web 2.0" is all about online community. But sometimes we want more. We want to meet the real people behind those avatars and icons. A small group of Ann Arbor photographers, first met on Flickr, has been meeting semi-regularly in person. Tonight, a small group of us got together for a "meetup": conversation and photo viewing at Sweetwaters cafe in downtown Ann Arbor.

We know each other online by our Flickr "handles", such as Boston Wolverine and Capntoo. In person, we become Sam and Dave. We have nothing in common, save our common interest in photography, and that's enough. We will discover other commonalities, and some will become friends while others remain merely acquaintances.

alley noir
After the official meetup, a smaller group of us went photo-walking — looking for possibly interesting subjects on the dark streets of Ann Arbor, and taking pictures of them. In one case, we fortuitously created a photo op. A fellow asked us if we knew where the Alley Bar was. "It's at the other end of that alley." As he walked into the cloud of steam, we snapped frame after frame, hoping that at least one would have a spark of greatness.

photo nuts
One thing I've learned is that most photographers don't mind being photographed. We are each others' willing models. The cliché photo of one photographer taking another's photo, or two taking each other's photos is hard to resist.

In the end, our online community becomes a personal community, which in turn strengthens the online community.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

2008 Challenge, Week 2

construction

There's a lot of construction happening in our town, despite the glut in the home market due to the economic downturn. I don't know how the builders are going to recoup their expenses any time soon. This picture also illustrates a downside of new construction -- that we lose some of our history with each one. I tried to show this by including the historic bus terminal in the photo. (Other examples of loss include the Frieze building and Anberay apartments.)

This photo was planned, although the planning phase was short. I was driving to work and saw the new building in the morning light. I thought that "new construction" was something about my community. Then I had the idea to contrast the deco bus station with the new building. I knew approximately where I wanted to shoot from to get them both in the frame, so I walked over there on my way to work, and took several shots, bracketing the exposure because of the extreme contrast.

Once I loaded the pictures into my computer, I could see that no single exposure would capture details in both the bright and dark areas. Here are the two original exposures that I chose to use:
Light and dark exposures
The left hand exposure has nice detail and color in the sky and condos, but the bus station is lost in the shadows. The right hand exposure shows the bus station well, but the sky is washed out and details are lost in the new building. So I decided to combine them to get the best of both.

I could have used a "high dynamic range" program to combine them, but the light and dark areas were so cleanly separated, I decided to do it by hand. That involved pasting the darker exposure into a layer over the lighter one and then erasing the bus station, so that the lighter exposure in the bottom layer showed through. You can see this in the left half of the image below. Finally, I used the clone brush to paint out the light pole, sign, and some wires that looked messy against the sky. The painted-out bits are shown in the right half, below.



And, there you have it.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The February Challenge

Our challenge for February is to take 3 photos each week, featuring a different color each week. It's an interesting challenge, which at first seems hard, but once I pick a color, I see it everywhere.

For the first (short) week, I decided on purple because I knew that I could get at least one purple shot from the set for Beauty and the Beast. I've been on the set crew for the Burns Park Players annual production for the past 9 years, and really enjoy it. It's a place where I can be a little creative on my own, and part of a massively creative group effort.

purple set and costume

When I got to the theater, they were also working on the teapot costume, colorfully repainted in pink and purple.

Earlier the same day, I joined a group of Detroit and Ann Arbor area photographers on a "photo safari" around downtown Ann Arbor and the University. A fellow trekker, Sam, had a striking purple streak in her hair. I immediately decided to make that one of my purples.

purple hair

I had several options for my third purple, but decided that this display from the window of American Apparel was the one to go with. There were actually 3 manikins in purple, but I couldn't get a good shot of all three because of the reflections from the glass. I think this one is stronger, anyway.
purple sweater

At first, I was worried about finding my 3 purples, but it was amazing how I started seeing purple everywhere. I was freed from searching for the color and could, instead, focus on the images.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Photo Challenges

Last year, I gave myself a challenge: to take at least one photograph a day for 365 days, and to post one photograph per day to a Flickr group dedicated to that purpose. I was in this with a number of other people, and knowing that there was a community to whom I was, in at least a loose sense, accountable, helped me keep to my challenge. I finished that challenge in early January, and you can view my 365 photographs, if you wish.

Doing the challenge got me more involved in the process of photography than I had been for years. I started to read photoblogs (see the sidebar for some links), and found more participatory projects. On finishing my 365, I decided to cut back from one photo a day to a photo a week in the "2008 photo challenge." The goal of this challenge is to "document your community," where "community" is left purposely indeterminate.

The first photo I took in 2008 for this challenge documents an Ann Arbor icon.

snow bears - #357 - January 3, 2007

Cuddling snow bears in front of Blimpyburger have become an Ann Arbor icon. The owner rebuilds the snow bears frequently, so we like to keep an eye on them to see what's changed. We had 10 inches of snow on New Year's morning, and here is the result.

Although we are supposed to plan out our photos for the challenge, I have to admit that this one was not planned. I was walking by, saw the snow bears, and took a few shots by the light of the setting sun. I got double duty from this photo, entering it as number 357 in my 365 challenge, and for week 1 in the 2008 challenge.

I've taken a couple other photos of the snow bears. One is another angle on these bears, and the other was taken last winter.

Interestingly, doing this challenge is both easier and harder than the 365 challenge. Because I don't have to take a photo every day, I'm not always carrying my camera, and I tend wait until late in the week to get my weekly shot. I'm also not planning ahead as much as I "should be." That makes this challenge a good opportunity to work on reducing my tendency to leave things to the last minute.

I've also started a separate "February challenge", about which I'll write in my next entry.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Is "agreement on issues" the best way to select a presidential candidate?

93% Mike Gravel
93% Dennis Kucinich
86% Chris Dodd
83% Barack Obama
81% John Edwards
81% Hillary Clinton
79% Joe Biden
73% Bill Richardson
36% Rudy Giuliani
28% Ron Paul
23% John McCain
16% Mike Huckabee
16% Mitt Romney
16% Tom Tancredo
7% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

It's pretty clear that I'm a Democrat, isn't it!? I guess I should check out Mike Gravel's positions. But I don't think he's got a prayer of being elected. But maybe I really should vote for Dennis on Tuesday, even if it's a two-person contest that doesn't even count for anything.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Nerd type?

Ok, so this was mildly fun. And the answer seems to fit. Try it or not...

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Science/Math Nerd
 

(Absolute Insane Laughter as you pour toxic chemicals into a foaming tub of death!)

Well, maybe you aren't this extreme, but you're in league with the crazy scientists/mathmeticians of today. Very few people have the talent of math and science is something takes a lot of brains as well. Thank whosever God you worship, or don't worship, so thank no deity whatsoever in your case, for you people! Most of us would have died off without your help.

Literature Nerd
 
Gamer/Computer Nerd
 
Social Nerd
 
Drama Nerd
 
Musician
 
Artistic Nerd
 
Anime Nerd
 
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

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