Thursday, December 22, 2011

Where I've Been

The View at 1801, 2011

I’d expected to be back here by now.
Several weeks ago my mother was rushed in the wee hours of the morning from her nursing home to the hospital. Her condition was such that she was not expected to last until lunchtime, much less the day.
But as it has on a number of occasions over the last few years, my mother’s body belied her desire for life to end and carried her not only through that first day, but every one of the twenty days since, including December 22nd, her 91st birthday.
It seemed important to me for a while that she make it to this birthday, although she’s no longer aware of it and had no interest in attaining it in the first place. She's from a generation where children died young and seniors never gave a thought to surviving past their sixties. But now I realize this was a pretty silly target. She long ago reached the point of having lived longer than anyone else in her generation of her family. There was nothing to prove and these last twenty days haven’t been pleasant ones for her.
When she returned home to her nursing home from the hospital, my mother entered hospice treatment and became one of those people who actually improved when the medications she’d been using for her litany of chronic conditions was discontinued. But that was short-lived and for more than a week now she has teetered at death’s doorstep, made comfortable to the extent that she is by copious doses of palliative medications.
As you can imagine, a lot of time goes into keeping watch over someone in this condition. My mother’s death, whenever it does occur, will be seen as a release for her from earthly pains and anxiety. There’s not really much to be done, to be honest, and my mother has reached the point where she no longer recognizes me. But just the same you feel the need to maintain a presence.
Add all this to a couple of demanding client projects, a furnace and plumbing that have both decided to act up—and did someone say Christmas is coming?—and you don’t have much time left for creative outlets.
So the bottom line is that I’m not back yet. I’m hoping to be back by the first of the year. In the meantime, I wish you all happy holidays and a healthy and prosperous new year! 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter's Break

Winter Sky, 2005

The smack of the cold air on the cheeks.
The acrid smell of wood fires.
Owls hooting in the trees.
Geese overhead, headed south in their magnificent Vs.
Winter's coming.

[Work and other responsibilities are all-consuming at the moment. What I Saw is going to take a brief break. I hope to be back by December 15.]

Friday, December 2, 2011

Having an Audience

Summer Dinner, 2008

I was talking to a friend recently, a serious foodie, who described how she’s stopped cooking for her husband.
“He doesn’t notice it and doesn’t care,” she said. The kids are grown up and gone. So why should she go the effort of cooking for him if he’s just as happy picking up fast food on the way home from work?
My friend can still cook for herself, of course. And she does from time to time. But it’s clear that in the absence of an audience there’s not a lot of motivation for her to spend time setting the table, arranging flowers, selecting wine, background music and such. My friend used to be known for her “presentation” of a meal. Now I get the impression she eats standing up in the kitchen or in front of the television.
Having an audience is important. When I started posting photographs at Flickr in the spring of 2003 I was just interested in seeing how my work would look online. I was curious whether it would attract any attention. But I was more interested, as I’ve noted here before, in seeing if having a place to post pictures online every day would give me the motivation of to stick with it.
Still, it’s nice to have an audience. Over the years I’ve come to know a much more geographically and sociologically diverse range of friends at Flickr than I could have found where I live. Today there are more than five hundred people who’ve elected to see at least a thumbnail view of my daily posts at Flickr.
Not everyone clicks on every picture to see it in a larger format, of course. But over time it’s interesting to see how different pictures appeal to different people. Sometimes pictures I thought were going to engage a lot of people don’t, and sometimes pictures I’d thought of throwing away end up engaging the interest of a lot of people.
I’d like to say I don’t care a lot about the viewing numbers at my Flickr page. But I do in fact look at them most days to see if there’s anything I can learn from what seems to capture attention and what doesn’t. So far, the only trend I can discern with any confidence is that there isn’t any trend. So I’ll just keep throwing stuff out there to see what sticks.
Oh, and by the way, I love my wife’s cooking. She gives it a lot of thought and I try to make sure she never thinks that thought goes unnoticed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

All the Creative Choices

Walkers, 2004

Some people believe photography is just a matter of pointing the camera and pushing the shutter release. (They’re usually the same people who say, if they see a picture they really like, “You must have a nice camera.”) Any serious photograph, however, is actuallly the culmination of dozens, many even hundreds, of creative choices.
Those of us who are to any extent thoughtfully involved in the photography game discern between "snapshots" and "photographs" or, when we’re at our most pretentious, "images." Snapshots are what people who really aren't thinking about it "take." Photographs, on the other hand, are what more thoughtful photographers "make."
Those of us who take pictures know that if a dozen photographers went to the same place to take pictures of that same place or same event there'd probably be twelve different versions with twelve different interpretations, no two quite the same. Photojournlists are trained to look upon scenes in such a way that such bias is minimized. But even experienced photojournalists will tell you that this a goal rather than a quantifiable truth.
Among the variables involved in any photograph:
·      The choice of camera.
·      The type of film, the film speed or the digital ISO.
·      The time of day.
·      The time of the year.
·      The day of the week.
·      Where to stand.
·      Whether to shoot from close to the ground or from an elevated position.
·      What speed or aperture to use.
·      How to use the light.
·      What story to tell.
·      What to show.
·      What not to show.
“Walkers,” above, works in no small way and stands out because it was taken from an elevated position. Any number of people have taken pictures of people walking on the beach. But by varying the perspective, the picture has a slightly unexpected aspect to it.
A couple of my photographer friends and I used to talk about taking a road trip together. We were going to drive across a few states taking pictures. We've never quite gotten our act together enough to take this trip. And it's my secret suspicions that if we had we'd never have gotten any more than five miles down the road on any given day because each of us would be yelling to the driver to stop the car so that he could get out and make a picture of something he'd seen.
We may be thoughtful. But that doesn’t always mean we see things the same way.