Thursday, September 30, 2010

Are The "Trocks" in Town?

Are Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in Town? 2010

Couldn’t resist this.

While walking on the Virginia Beach boardwalk the other day just after the annual Neptune Festival Grand Parade, a flock of grown men and boys in duck costumes cut across the boardwalk to get to the beach, where I presume they were going to splash around in the water like ducks do. I don’t know what group they represented. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Ducks Unlimited. (There wasn't enough camouflage.)

They were funny looking and everyone got a kick out of them. But I couldn’t look at them without recalling Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a group of serious male dancers who perform, as London’s Sadler’s Well Theater put it, “a unique brand of ballet, dancing a fine line between high art and high camp.”

Look at this short clip of the “Trocks,” as they’re called by their fans, performing a bit of Swan Lake.

I don’t know much about dance. I admire the beauty and athleticism of some of it. But I’m pretty clueless about a lot of it. I am, though, big on musical parodies. Put me in a room with a stack of P.D.Q. Bach records, for example, and I’ll be no good for the rest of the day.

The Trocks aren’t as over the top as P.D.Q. Bach, whose zaniness is ultimately a high-class form of music education. But I suspect that if I had more time to go explore the Trocks on YouTube I could become hooked in their antics and probably gain a much better understanding of dance along the way.

Here’s some more of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo for your viewing pleasure.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Not a Christian Group, I’m Guessing, 2010

A few last thoughts about Saturday’s walk at the Neptune Festival.

Usually when I go to the festivals and art shows held on the Boardwalk at Virginia Beach I try to focus on something about the place or the event itself. But lately I’ve been drawn more and more to the people who come to these events. This is a big step for me because I’ve traditionally taken pictures that didn’t have people in them, or that didn’t, in any event, show people big enough to be picked out and recognized.

At the Neptune Festival Art Show, though, I have to admit that the people walking along the Boardwalk were far more interesting than most of the art. Some people were downright unusual looking or just distinctly interesting enough to draw my attention.

About halfway through my walk, I turned around to find my friend the illustrator Walt Taylor also weaving his way through the Neptune Festival crowd. If you’re a fan of Walt’s work, you know that he’s a master of the drawn line and a keen observer of mankind. We both marveled at the diversity of people walking along the Boardwalk and expressed interest in documenting them in some way.

But we also both came to the conclusion that our first inclinations were to ridicule the unusual body shapes, facial expressions, styles of dress and manners of speaking we observed. These were not—how can I say this gently? —your usual patrons of the arts. I don’t remember who said it first, but we commented that there were so many unusual looking people around us that to make fun of them was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Maybe Extra Extra, 2010

We felt guilty for thinking such thoughts; we’re both somewhat shy and fundamentally kind about how we portray strangers. But that guilt lasted about twenty seconds and before you knew it we were taking pictures of anything and anyone.

Here’s Walt’s take on the day. And here.

And a few more of my takes.

Beads, 2010

Young’un Accessory, 2010

Stretch Marks, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shooting from the Chest

Boardwalkers, 2010

When you’re walking in a crowd and you want to take pictures of people without draw such attention to yourself as will cause people to change what they’re doing, it’s helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

Some photographers resort to long lenses in such situations. They’ll sit way off to the side and cherry pick shots of people without being noticed. I can understand why they might do this. But I’m one of those people who believes you need to get a little closer, even to the point of interacting with the subject. Besides, long lenses flatten the perspective. When you’re dealing with people it can look as if you were just phoning in the picture from another planet. I prefer pictures that make you feel like you were in the crowd.

Neptune Festival Crowd, 2010

Last Saturday I was back down on the Virginia Beach boardwalk getting in a walk and watching some of the festivities of the Neptune Festival, an annual event conceived thirty-seven years ago to bolster the tourism “shoulder season.” The first Neptune Festival was mainly a big weekend seafood party. These days it includes several weeks of parties, balls, 5k and 10k foot races, a parade, art show, bands, sailing regatta, sandcastle building competition and probably some other things I’m forgetting.

Channeling my inner Martin Parr, I decided before I left home that I wanted to get close to the crowd. I loaded the 18-35mm wide-angle lens on my camera and headed into the fray. This used to be my default lens because I like to see “wide.” But now I use it mostly for the slightly distorted perspective it gives, especially in low angle shots.

Normally, I’m obsessive about looking into the viewfinder to compose pictures. But for this outing I had to let that go. What I did whenever I saw someone walking towards me that I wanted to photography I lifted my camera to the middle of my chest and took a picture without ever looking into the viewfinder. As these pictures show, if you do that people don’t even look at the cameras.

The downside of this technique, of course, is that composition can be hit or miss. Some of the shots I took this way completely missed the subject. Some, like Fame, Like a Good Figure, is Fleeting, have focus issues. The man in Portrait of an Unknown could have been better positioned. Clearly, I’ve got some work to do perfecting this technique. But if I practice it some more I’m pretty sure I’ll get better at it.

Fame, Like a Good Figure, is Fleeting, 2010

Portrait of an Unknown, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, 2010

My friend Carol called me a big tease the other day for not telling you the story behind The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, above.

I wish there was a good story in it. I wish I were clever enough to have arranged the scene this way. I’d be the seaside version of Gregory Crewdson, admired for this meticulously staged tableau, the careful multi-layered arrangement of blue and green buckets and the wind-tossed array of pink and blue chairs framed by the unopened umbrellas, the ocean and the sky.

The truth is that this is the scene exactly as I found it. It’s a children’s play area in front of a resort hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It looks like a strong north wind might have just blown through, tossing the chairs asunder and blowing the umbrellas southward. But I suspect it’s more a case of the beach attendant having tossed all the little chairs and sand toys into the built-up sandbox and hoping that the boss wouldn’t notice.

My friend Gail asked about the color. The color is a result of three things:

  • Good natural light cast evenly across the whole scene.
  • Good exposure, good lights and darks.
  • An advanced post-processing color adjustment made in Photoshop.

The latter is not a trick. It doesn’t create a color that wasn’t in the original image. But it punches up certain colors and gives them a richer saturation that merely changing the RGB color saturation wouldn’t do.

Using Photoshop:

  1. Start with your original jpeg image. Get the exposure where you want it if the original exposure isn’t good.
  2. Change the Image Mode to LAB color. (As I recall, LAB color has a slightly wider and more nuanced spectrum.)
  3. Use the Curves adjustment to enhance the color to whatever degree you want. (A light hand is a good idea. If you overdo it, the image will take on an unnatural look.)
  4. Change the Image Mode back to RGB color.
  5. Save your file.

Now you know all my secrets. (To be honest, I learned this one from Dave Cross at a Photoshop workshop. You could ask my friend Alice. She was there.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

No Downbeat Left Unheard

Delit d’Swing, 2006

If I can combine a trip with music, I’m a happy camper. The opportunity to hear good music has a way of transforming even a routine business trip into a transcendent experience, especially if the music’s encountered unexpectedly.

Here’s how silly I can be about this. While chairing a conference in Chicago about twenty years ago I learned that the performing arts school of the university across the street from my hotel was putting on a one-night only concert version of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. I adjourned a planning meeting an hour early so that I could slip out quickly and get across the street in time to get a seat.

During another conference where I was a Saturday morning speaker, this one in San Antonio, I kept on my coat and tie and crashed two wedding receptions being held at the hotel that afternoon just so I could listen to an excellent mariachi band.

I wrote here earlier about the night I got to hear Bruce Hornsby, Bela Fleck and Ricky Scaggs at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. On other nights I’ve fallen into clubs in New York and Chicago to hear jazz musicians.

Years ago my wife and I stumbled into Litchfield Cathedral in England late one afternoon just as the choir was beginning to rehearse for an upcoming concert. There were no other tourists around. We sat in a back pew just below the choir loft and let the music flow around us for almost an hour.

I also wrote here before about wandering into a quiet courtyard in Venice early one Saturday morning while a pianist upstairs played a Rachmaninoff concerto.

In Paris, we left the windows of our hotel room open so that we could hear the organist rehearse at the Basilica of St. Clotilde.

We also found the group above playing at the flea market in the Place Saint-Sulpice. They call themselves Delit d’Swing and play le jazz hot in the gypsy style of Django Reinhardt. You can hear them play here.

Wedding at St. Clotilde, 2006

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Leaving Well Enough Alone?

Under the Pier, 2010

Do you ever go back and look at pictures your taken or painted or drawn and change them?

I’ve been watching a series of programs lately on the Sundance Channel called The Day Before. Each half-hour show covers the day leading up to one or another famous fashion designer’s annual fashion show. So far I’ve watched Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Donatello Versace, the latter of whom is said to be tempestuous and unlikable, but came across in at least this show as a pretty nice person. They’re all artists, though, so they’re always changing things and always keeping all the people who work in their orbits up late and frustrated with unrealistic demands.

In a documentary that only covers the last hours before a show, it’s difficult to know how much time has actually gone into designing and creating the fifty or so completely new outfits that will be shown. But if there’s a recurring theme among these programs so far, it’s that a whole lot of sweat goes into the last few hours. Things that looked good on paper or on a mannequin don’t look good on the live model who will wear them in the show. The seam that nobody noticed before stands out like a sore thumb. The combination of well-selected fabrics doesn’t end up going together well. Upon seeing them in the show line-up, some outfits get completely blown apart and remade. Some disappear from the collection. The hours before the big show are all about making and remaking dresses. No one sleeps. But the teams always pull it off in the end. Anna Wintour nods approvingly. The crowd applauds. Lots of air kisses.

This got me to wondering about how I treat pictures I took a long time ago. My workflow goes something like this:

  1. I take the pictures.
  2. I’ll do a quick cull that day to get rid of the easily recognized duds. Some pictures will stand out right away. I’ll start working on them.
  3. The others I’ll do some preliminary post processing on within a couple of days. But I find I have to approach them a few at a time.
  4. Eventually, I’ll sort out a few “selects,” and then over a period of what could be either weeks of months, I’ll toss the remaining ones out. (Just because it’s easy to store digital pictures doesn’t mean you have to.)
  5. I look at them for a while and then they get stowed away on a hard drive. It’s been months since I liked a picture so much that I made a print for myself.

Every now and then I go back through the files and revisit pictures I’ve taken in the past. Upon reflection, some are mindless. I’ll wonder why I ever kept them. In some I’ll be like the designers in The Day Before and find flaws I didn’t notice before and touch them up a bit. Still others I’ll have to admit have no reason to be. I’ll feel good to have cleaned them out.

Yesterday I went down and took a walk on the beach. I also took about thirty-five pictures. The first cull was easy. None of the images excited me and only five survived the first cut, including Under the Pier, above. Who knows what will happen when I look at it again this winter?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Captain of Your Own Ship

Captain of Your Own Ship, 2010

I like dreamers. I like to think I’m something of a dreamer myself. Dreamers are inclined to see past today and consider what tomorrow can be. That probably makes us difficult to live with and frustrating to be around. But I still try to make sure I spend time with dreamers regularly. They’re an optimistic bunch. Sometimes being a good friend means you need to be a buoy to friends whose moods have got them down, and can bring you down, too, if you’re not careful. Having some dreamer friends around to balance that is useful.

All artists are dreamers of one kind of another. The empty canvas, the empty page, the empty musical staff, the skein of yarn; they’re all invitations to dream. I don’t paint, but I still get excited when I go to a store that sells art supplies. All the blank surfaces, all the textures, all the colors; they’re like notes calling out to be sung.

Gordon MacKenzie used to tell this story to illustrate how important it is to keep dream against the odds:

On the way down the birth canal, God hands each child an empty canvas and says, “Take this with you and paint me a picture of your world.” Only when you’re born they take the canvas away and tell you they’ll give it back when you’re old enough to know how to use it. But when you reach that age, you find the canvas is no longer blank. They’ve printed a paint-by-numbers template on it. You can only paint what you’ve been conditioned to paint.

For me, the camera is a gateway to opportunity, to potential, to whatever I can see or imagine through the viewfinder.

The magic of the camera is that looking through the viewfinder allows you to see the world that is, ironically, more disciplined that what your eyes see. The view’s framed by the format of the camera. It might be square if you’re using a medium or large format camera or rectangular if you’re using a 35mm or its modern digital SLR successor. Each has its advantages. Each has a slightly different way of drawing you in.

With a camera you can capture something. You can reflect something. You can draw someone in or repel them. You can take a picture that is mindless or you can use what you capture in the camera as the beginning of the creation of something that doesn’t even exist in real life.

With a camera you can have control over the world around you. No matter how grounded you might feel, by picking up the camera you can be the captain of your own ship.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Block Challenge

One Night Only, Right Here on Atlantic Avenue! 2010

One of the books I liked to read when I was a toddler was “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” the very first book by Dr. Seuss. It teased me with the idea that I could find interesting things anywhere if I was just patient enough to recognize it.

Sometimes heading out to take pictures I feel like that kid in the window overlooking Mulberry Street. I have no specific target in mind. Whatever happens is what I’ll make something of. I used to ride around the region a lot, just seeing what there was to see. But as I’ve become conscious that just riding around like this sometimes does little more than waste gasoline, I’ve tried to explore photo outings that test my creativity while putting less mileage on the car.

One result of this is the “The Block Challenge.” The rules are simple: I use a random method to pick a physical place. For convenience sake, I’ve confined myself lately to the oceanfront resort area here in Virginia Beach. The resort area’s a narrow stretch with streets numbered one to forty running perpendicular to the beach.

So I pick a number between 1 and 40 and that tells me which block I’m going to work on.

The next rule is that I allot myself one hour to study the block and see what I can find to photograph there. I limit myself to one hour because during the summer you might have to pay to park in the resort area. I’m cheap. One hour does a good job of emptying the coin bin in my car.

The last rule is that I take all the pictures I want within that hour, but try to reduce them to just a few decent shots that tell the story of the block.

This process isn’t as dogmatic or technical as it may sound. If I see something interesting on the next corner, I’ll go see what it is. If I have more than five pictures I like, I certainly don’t get upset. But this process does do a good job of getting me started.

This past Sunday afternoon I drew the block between 15th and 16th Streets. There was even a metered parking place available on 16th Street. I was lucky because this block includes not only a little amusement park, but also a fishing pier. Here’s a little of what I saw:

The Block, 2010

The Upper Deck, 2010

Three kids. One tattoo. 2010

Banzai! 2010

Amusement Park 039, 2010

Amusement Park - 035, 2010

Over the Surf, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

You Had to Be There

Over the Surf, 2010

I’m sorry. There’s just no way to describe the swell of the waves under your feet when you take a picture like this.

They build far off shore. Maybe from a storm hundreds of miles away. Combined with the wind, they press north and then east until they hit the shallower coastal shelf. As they approach the shore they rise up in great rollers.

You can see them coming. Long swells than run north and south as far as you can see, cutting deep grooves in the ocean. They come ashore in lines. One, two, three in a row. As a child I was told they came in series of seven. You saw one and you knew to count to seven before getting in position to ride the next big one in. You didn’t waste your time on the ones in between.

Yesterday I just stood on the old wooden fishing pier and felt the air come up between the slats of the deck as the waves built underneath, gently pushing the pilings to and fro as they made their way to shore.

You had to be there.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's About Time

5:46 a.m., 2006

“We must be willing to get rid of the life

we planned for the life that’s waiting for us.”

I heard this line yesterday in a lecture. It’s attributed to the late mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, who you may recall was the fellow who encouraged us all to pursue our bliss.

I never got into the Campbell oeuvre when he was alive. I knew about him. I watched the PBS series, The Power of Myth, he did with Bill Moyers. When we once lived next to a long wooded ravine, several of us guys in the neighborhood joked about camping in the woods, stripping down to our skivvies and beating drums while dancing around a fire. But talking about it was about as self-aware as we got. Mainly we were was too busy trying to be being good husbands and fathers, working on careers, paying mortgages and worrying about college tuition for our children to allow ourselves the luxury of bliss.

When you enter the empty nest stage of life you can have a second chance to find a passion and pursue your own bliss. For one thing, you have more time on your hands. If you have half a purpose about you, you also become aware that time is passing quickly and that you’d best not waste it perfecting your tan or watching soaps on TV.

There’s a wonderful moment in Pat Conroy’s memoir, My Losing Season, when a taciturn English professor at The Citadel, seeing promise in young Conroy’s writing, advises the young cadet that life is short and that he’d best get on with making something of himself as a writer.

Which brings us to the next line from Joseph Campbell:

“The privilege of a lifetime is knowing who you are.”

I once heard a college graduation speaker say that the best advice he could give us was to undergo psychological testing so that “you can know who you are.” I suspect the speaker’s wise words fell on a lot of deaf ears, what with graduates worried about getting jobs and being able to afford some new socks that didn’t have holes in them and all. But as I reflect back on that advice, I realize just how valuable it was.

I like Campbell’s idea about “knowing who you are.” But I’ve come to believe that the greatest privilege of life is appreciating the time you have to live it.

I like 5:46 a.m., above, because it reminds me that you can’t get the sunrise pictures you want if you insist on wasting the morning in bed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The More You Learn, The More You Learn How Much More There is to Learn

At the Beach 2010

Now that I’m far enough into life to genuinely appreciate that I might have passed the halfway point, I’m learning all sorts of life lessons I wish I’d learned earlier.

Like paying attention in school. I paid attention and did well in the classes that interested me, and I’m always amazed when little tidbits of knowledge from the classes I didn’t think I was paying much attention to—especially the sciences—come tumbling back out of my mouth. But I sure wish I’d been more diligent in math and chemistry. I was the kid who complained, “How will I ever use those statistics in real life?” Well, it turns out I do use those statistics in real life, and it sure was frustrating to have to go back and learn them as an adult after several dedicated teachers had tried to imprint them in my mind when I was younger.

I’d have also taken more classes in things I didn’t think I was interested in. I went to college just as schools were throwing out required curriculums. Only my college was a decade or so behind on that trend. So I didn’t get much choice. Now I wish I could go back and make a career of going to college. There are so many interesting things to study.

If I had… Was there ever a more plaintive cry than “If I had…?” If I’d done this, my life would have been very different. Not that the one I have is bad. It isn’t. But it’s the result of having recognized and made very few choices when I was younger, and some of them not all that intelligently. Let’s just say I’m walking evidence that life throws a lot of good luck in your direction if you’re willing to catch it and work hard.

I mention all this because I finally finished the first official version of the At the Beach 2010 pdf “book.” (It’s probably better described as an “essay.” If it were music, it’d probably be called an etude.) It seemed like such a simple idea when I started it. After all, there’s not all that much to it. Anyone who’s ever taken Graphic Design 101 is already leagues ahead of me so far as layout and design are concerned. This is one of those times when I’ve learned that I’ve just scratched the surface enough to realize that there is a whole lot more I need to learn if I’m going to do this well.

Just one more thing to add to the “to do” list.

In the meantime, if you’d like a copy of At The Beach 2010, send your e-mail address to me at the address below and I’ll be happy to send you a copy. (Remember, it’s not really a “book.” It’s an electronic file, readable on most any computer by just clicking on it.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do You Think You Auto?

The Fisherman, 1964

We had dinner last night with a friend who’s getting ready to start a class on how to use sewing software. Yes, even one of the oldest home crafts is now digitized. This friend is one of those kind people who always has a thoughtful, personally made gift for newborns, newlyweds and other important occasions. Starting next week she’s going to learn how to design elaborate embroidery designs on the computer screen and have the computer tell the sewing machine how to move a mobile platform around under the needle so that the design can be applied to fabric stretched over it.

In the sewing world, I suppose this is akin to how we felt in the newspaper industry in the 1970s when electronic pagination came along. We learned how to use Atex digital newspaper composing systems that could send complete pages to engraving department, which had not too long before changed from cumbersome hot type to nimble and cheap plastic printing plates. Today you can probably produce a newspaper on a Mac. (Or jump straight over that “old” technology and go straight to Flipboard.

Ever since the first battery went into a camera, I suspect photography purists have been casting knowing looks at each other about the lazy newbies who rely on automatic cameras. My first serious cameras, bought during the mid-1960s, were completely mechanical and required that you either have a very refined sense of exposure or else always carry a light meter with you. (I still have the little gray Gossen light meter I used back then. If you’re of a certain age, you know exactly which one I’m talking about.)

My first semi-automatic camera was a Nikon purchased in 1968. What made it any bit automatic was that it had battery-powered through-the-lens metering. All you had to do was match up aperture and shutter speed settings until a little arrow in the viewfinder lined up.

I didn’t buy another camera until 1995. It was another Nikon and it was, compared to the old one, fully automatic. If you wanted to, you could let the internal meter calculate the right exposure or focus your lens. I still liked to meter manually so that I could have greater control over depth of field. But since my eyesight has started to decline, I’ll admit I appreciated the more precise auto focusing.

Even in those pre-digital days you could hear the photography purists tut-tutting about all the aspiring photographers who would never be “serious” photographers because they didn’t know the craft of picture making.

Let’s just say I spent enough years in darkrooms processing film and making wet prints to appreciate the craft of photography. I was also only too happy to leave all those stinky chemicals, wet paper and red-tinted rooms behind when digital photography came along.

These days anyone with $100 can have a decent digital camera with decent optics. What used to be done in the darkroom can now be done on the computer monitor. (We’ve traded stinky fingers for strained eyes.) I’ve nothing against those who continue to practice the old craft of film and wet processing. But insisting that photography isn’t authentic if you don’t do it the old way is like insisting that we should still be driving crank-start jalopies that don’t have windows or weather-tight roofs.

Which is why I was interested when a painter friend told me about the Introduction to Digital Photography class she was taking. Just recently she was telling me about how she had advised yet another artist friend who has taken up digital photography that the friend ought to stop using the automatic metering in her camera and instead learn how to set her exposures manually.

This got me to wondering whether the first friend’s instructor is one of those old purists who’s having a hard time making the transition from old craft to new technology. I understand why it’s important to know and be able to employ various aperture and shutter speed settings. But in the end it’s all about the impression created by the image itself. And if you’re just taking a picture of something, why not let the camera do some of the work for you so that you can concentrate on the subject and composition?

At first I thought it was a little silly that my sewing friend is going to turn the work of actually embroidering designs on fabric over to her computer and sewing machine. Where’s the craft, I thought? But then I realized that I was sounding like one of those old photography purists who insists that every step in the process of making a photograph should be done manually. My friend will still pick the patterns—maybe even design some of her own—and decide which colors and threads to use. So I shut up.

I chose to show you Fisherman, above, because it was taken in 1964 with a Kodak Instamatic camera. I knew almost nothing about aperture and shutter speed then and the Instamatic gave me no choices anyway. This photo earned me an honorable mention in a national contest, which just goes to show you that either standards were lower in those days or that it really is the impression the photo makes that’s important, not what you used to make it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What Are We Really Seeing?

Parade of Sail 88, 2007

I was describing to someone last night how serious journalists and photojournalists work hard to observe basic elements of objectivity in their work. I don’t know if it’s still the case, and a lot of people probably never even knew about it; but it at least used to be policy in newsrooms that reporters covering political campaigns were not allowed to vote in elections or became involved in political campaigns lest their reporting reflect a partisan point of view. I likened this quest to the Scientific Method as interpreted by journalism.

It’s funny how when we doubt the veracity of someone’s coverage of an event we seek out photographs or moving pictures to give us the “true” reckoning of things. We presume that these images are more accurate reflections of truth because we can see what’s going on with our own eyes.

In the late summer of 1990, we were glued to CNN watching the U.S. and coalition forces invade Kuwait. For those of us who’d grown up watching film from the Vietnam War that might be several days old by the time we saw it, seeing the Gulf War live, “as it happens,” was like something out of a Tom Clancy novel.

In Operation Desert Storm, to paraphrase Edgar R. Murrow, “we were there.” We saw the fire and heard the whiz of Scud missiles streak across the pixelated nighttime sky. If our televisions’ sound systems were robust enough, we could even pretend to feel the concussion of their explosive landings. Thanks to its brevity, Operation Desert Storm was more like a mini-series staring “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf than a war.

Even though CNN reporters could only speculate on what we were seeing, and even though much of what they reported would subsequently be found to be untrue, we became hooked on the TV porn of live war coverage and have never looked back.

This experience proved that we’d rather have incomplete and inaccurate live photographic coverage of an event than have accurate written coverage a few hours later. This insight into our national psyche is why I guess I shouldn’t have gotten so upset when the size of the crowd at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington D.C. was reported variously as 80,000 (by Beck himself), 500,000 (by Mrs. Palin, who was standing right beside him) and “a million strong” (by Michelle Bachman, who was also standing on the same stage). We see what we want to see.

There’s a long tradition of discussion among photographers about what constitutes accuracy and truth. Two photographers coming to the same event with absolutely no preconceived notions can take pictures that suggest to some viewers that they were at two different events. Even the lighting or the background or the lens selection of a simple portrait can make all the difference in whether we interpret the person being photographed as friendly, inquisitive, thoughtful or just plain evil.

There’s a wonderful program I think very highly of that you might find interesting. It’s called Truth with a Camera. It began at the University of Missouri Photo Workshop in 1949 and has evolved into one of the most respect photojournalism workshops in the nation. The founding director of the program had but one rule. “Show truth with a camera. No posing. No manipulation of the facts.”

Years ago I attended a lecture by a famous photojournalist. As he ran through slides and described many of the award-winning photographs for which he was famous, he described how he’d posed people, moved vehicles and made other changes in the scene to create emotionally impactful images. Most of the people in the audience sat in awe. I left feeling nothing but anger and disappointment at the way the photographer had lied about history and reached a point in life where he had no apparent shame about describing how he’d violated the most basic ethical guidelines of his trade.

We don’t all aspire to be photojournalists, nor is it necessary for us to adhere to Truth with a Camera’s guidelines. But it’s helpful in our own development to at least be honest about where we’re coming from when we take pictures, especially if our pictures are intended to serve as some kind of documentation or historic record of a family, a place or a time in our life.

The purpose of showing Parade of Sail 88, above, is to show that depending on what you know about the scene, the tug boats and their water spouts could either be welcoming the tall ship to port or putting out a fire. The name tells you that it's probably not a fire. But another name could have given a completely different impression.