Sunday, December 30, 2012

Silence! You Have No Voice

If there's one thing I despise, it's being minimized. Considering I was just minimized on DeviantArt, it's not making a great start for my Sunday.

Link to the "Solitude" photo on DeviantArt
To provide context about the situation, I uploaded this photo onto DeviantArt and placed it into the category of abstract photos. About 30 minutes later, I received a message saying my photo was reported as inappropriately categorized and had been moved. In a painfully ironic twist, the photo didn't even indicate it had received any views. Not only was it moved, but it was done so in such a way as to not indicate at least two people looked at it: the community member who reported it and the administrator who moved it. My selection of abstract as the category is debatable. But whether or not truly the photo is abstract is not where my real issue resides. Enough said. I'll share my journal post I published on DeviantArt after this happened:

"Earlier this morning, one of my photos was moved to a new category after I submitted it. From what I understand, another community member reported it as being in the wrong category. The photo, "Solitude" was moved from abstract to Urban Exploration as a result.  To say the least, I am not pleased. Here's why: the photo is intended to communicate more than just an image of urban settings. With the single sentence of description coupled to the photograph, it makes a statement about how our culture has learned to turn a blind eye to decay and solitude, ignoring society-based issues as if they don't exist.

I'm sure those who are purists (or simply like to argue) might claim the photo doesn't rely on form, color or flow to fit into the category of photography style abstracts. But take a look in the upper quadrant. Do you see the predominance of the reflection of light? Well, I consider that a key aspect of this photo. And let's take a look at the empty space on the left side as well. It's fundamentally a usage of the absence of color. The garden hose to the left? Being alongside an empty chair, it provides a more sinister symbolism implying torture... ah forget it, I'm talking to myself here.

My selection of abstract as the category is certainly open for debate. Conceptual art might have been appropriate but I do feel the photo has beauty and is no less important than the message it carries. 

But the categorization of the photo is not where my real issue resides. Let's try to look at this from my perspective and maybe you'll understand why I feel upset. By moving the photo and only notifying me after the fact, I was stripped of my voice and power in the matter by being totally removed from the decision making process. For that matter, the community member reporting their disagreement was given more power by at least being involved in the process.

The admins of DeviantArt can do as they please, it's their site. I also understand the move was done to help others find similar content and as such, it was not a malicious action. As such, I have no objections to the photo being in the Urban Exploration category. But it would be nice to have someone at least discuss the issue with me rather than telling me after the fact thereby minimizing me to an insignificant bystander."

My anger will be insignificant to anyone except myself, but I would like to point out that taking away a person's voice is a social abuse we commit on a daily basis. Yet we defend our actions saying people should develop tougher skins or that they are reading too much into a situation. I disagree. Courtesy rests upon each of our shoulders. If we opt to hide rudeness with excuses, it's a choice. But I for one, do not find value in the act. Think before you act and maybe you'll spare someone from having a bad day.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oil and Water

There are days when I feel frustration  Some more than others. Feeling a little, well okay, a lot of confusion and frustration, I picked up my pen and funneled the negative emotions from my brain onto paper. Afterward, I posted the text on DeviantArt along with an appropriate photo as a sort of therapeutic way of tossing my bad feelings into a fireplace. Whether or not it helps to write down my issues remains to be seen, but keeping them inside can't be beneficial for my state of well being.

To add a sense of reality to this, I'll give an example of why the scenario is frustrating. I was on Pixdaus several days ago browsing through the pictures and stumbled across one of my photos. Bracketing my photo on both sides of the stream of content was more than a dozen photos from another member. Each of the other photos received without fail, 31 or 32 votes. My photo had received only one vote at that juncture in time. The consistency of numbers is what bugged me. Regardless of the content, the other member was receiving interaction and most likely from their pod or clique. And with my photo smack in the middle receiving little or no response, it implied a clique was at work and was ignoring outsiders. I'm relying on past experience with this assumption as I've seen this happen multiple times before and have used empirical results to form my speculative logic. Yes, it is speculation, but it's likely fairly close to being spot on.

If we move up a layer higher in abstracting the problem, a concern arises that cliques drive away potential contributors who create content outside of the localized mainstream interest of the clique members. Simply because a trend is hot doesn't mean it's the only thing that should be promoted on a site that caters to broader interests. Youtube is more than Gangnam style videos even though it's the chart topper in popularity as of current. But if people only watched or voted for Gangnam videos while ignoring other works, new contributors would tire eventually and leave. Lack of recognition or acknowledgment to fringe members can lead to a detrimental situation in regards to diversity. Some form of balance is necessary. And to that extent, I do my best to be an actively involved member in the communities I'm associated with. Not only do I actively comment on a variety of different work, but I do my best to psych other people up to become involved in a positive way.

Cliques aren't anything I can eradicate but I can promote awareness in thinking about our actions. And that's why I'm creating content focused on highlighting innovation, creativity and individuality. It voices my concerns and emotions in an artistic form. I'm using art in the manner it should be used, to express and share my feelings with the community in a creative way.

My inability to engage others on social networking sites focused on multimedia content such as Tumblr or Pixdaus has seized the lions's share of my attention. I can't break past the feeling of being an outsider (at least not yet). But all is not doom and gloom. I can see change in progress and realize I will achieve visibility with a wider audience because I have something of value to say and am not hesitating to express my thoughts artistically.

I've decided to copy and paste my commentary from DeviantArt here because it isn't a site everyone necessarily wants, or is willing, to visit. And yes, the topic of social interactions and etiquette are issues I keep touching upon in this blog, but it's important to me because it feels like a brick wall I know everyone has experienced. Enough said. On to the meat and potatoes:

Oil and Water

For those who feel the fires of impatience melting the soles of their boots or anyone else who has no interest in analogy, skip to the last paragraph to obtain the dime-store summary. Otherwise, read on. 

Communities share an aspect in common with nature as they both contain symbiotic relationships that manifest in different forms: mutualistic, commensalistic or parasitic members. Artistic communities are no different in the sense all three forms of symbiosis exist. 

Artists create and express a message through symbolism using a creative palette of words, images or other forms of stimuli with the intent of making us think. In essence, the artist serve as a host to produce content for the community (including other artists) to consume. Being both producer (host) and consumer, artists essentially become intertwined in all three forms of relationships with other community members. 

The consumer symbiont exists in all three forms as well. There are those who interact with a primary focus on their own specific needs while others interact in more communal sense.

In the commensal sense, there are those who browse for their own enjoyment and establish minimal interaction. The casual community member seeks out what they enjoy, feasts upon it with their senses and might comment or provide other forms of surface-level feedback to acknowledge their pleasure or displeasure with an artist's given message.

The parasitic consumer arises and typically forms a clique with other like-minded individual who share a common value. Lesser known artists, when intermingled with disinterested clique members, will become no different than water mixed with oil; their efforts sink to the bottom and vanish from sight. The tight bonds shared within an exclusive group motivate the clique members to either ignore or ostracize artists who have not achieved the critical mass necessary to become popular.

And finally, the proactive participant focuses on mutualisitic interactions which are beneficial to themselves as well as the entire community. Not only do they acknowledge an artist regardless of their social standing, but the proactive participant also interacts with and constructively criticizes their work in order to further the artists growth. 

Like oil and water, a successful merger of diverse cultural experiences in a community can be possible but not without a constant expenditure of energy to mingle the the two together. Community interactions and social growth are no different in that they require effort on our part. As such, it behooves us to ask ourselves how our actions affect the community. Do we feed parasitically or coax others to do the same by trying to create a clique? Or do we think beyond our own specific needs? Ultimately, if we desire quality content and enjoyable interactions, it would do us well to consider what kind of community member we are.

For anyone willing to visit DeviantArt, my post can be found here : Oil and Water on DA. Visitors are always welcome.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Process of Imagining Art

Want to know what goes into creating a photograph like this? If so, I'll outline the details of how I went from basic idea to final implementation.

Props and parts:
  • A weather-sealed electrical light socket
  • A CFL light bulb
  • An electrical plug with several feet of wire
  • Wire nuts
  • A small cardboard box for support
  • A piece of flat cardboard
  • An egg carton and eleven eggs
  • One more item (that will be included at the end of the post)

The initial idea took a number of days to percolate into something concrete. I had a desire to create an image with eggs which caused me to hold onto an empty carton as a prop to work with. At one point, I recall looking at the little pockets for holding the eggs and thinking how something "innovative" should be associated with one of the little cubbyholes. I also noticed I had over half a dozen CFL bulbs on hand. One thing led to another and I found myself carefully placing the CFL's in the egg carton as if they were eggs. It didn't have the impact I wanted so I tried to think of a way to make it stand out more. My next thought was to make one of the bulbs light up. From there, I cooked up the idea using a socket to light the bulb in the carton as I suspected it could look potentially striking.

Also, having recently bought a replacement carton of eggs at the grocery store, I now had a dozen eggs I could use as additional props. Since I wanted to keep the eggs cool enough to not go bad during the shoot, it provided additional incentive for using a CFL bulb which produces far less heat than an older filament-style incandescent bulb.

With the idea in place, I set about finding the parts I needed. The egg carton and the bulb were already on hand so now I needed to find the light socket and an electrical cord. Easy enough as I had some lighting for an aquarium I could re-purpose. After locating the light socket and the electrical cord, it was time to assemble everything.

First, I wired the electrical cord to the light socket wires. Using wire nuts, I covered the wire connection points to prevent inadvertent contact. I cut a hole in the bottom of one of the pockets in the egg carton. The hole needed to be large enough for the light bulb base to fit through but no bigger than necessary in order to provide a snug fit. The light bulb was then inserted from the topside of the egg carton into the light socket which was held beneath the cutout hole in the carton. I tightened the bulb to keep it from flopping about. The small cardboard box was used as support while the flat piece of cardboard was folded into an L-shape to hide the electrical wires and the support.

When it came time to start shooting, I introduced an additional light source. Besides the CFL bulb, I also used an LED flashlight to illuminate the bottom side of the egg carton in order to provide some additional depth. With the egg carton in place as well as the CFL plugged in and lit, I set about taking sample shots. It took nearly fifty photos to find what I liked for not only liked for camera position, but an appropriate shutter speed as well. I would take a series of photos, dismount the camera from the tripod and upload the shots to my PC. Then I would look through the photos and decide what I liked or didn't like about the batch before return the camera to the tripod for taking another round of photos. I repeated this process at least six different times before I settled upon the photo I used in my previous blog post.

Overall, it took three hours to set up to create the photo but the idea incubation took more than a week. While the arrangement is not overly complex, it was definitely an investment in time as well as requiring the willingness to refine the core idea.

I learned something from this experience. Many of the details involved in the creative process slip away from our memory. And sometimes, being able to provide the back-story to how and why something came into being can be equally as interesting as the artwork itself. In the future, I will keep a journal of my thoughts so I can go retrieve "snapshots" of what I was thinking throughout the process. Not only is it interesting to review at a later time, but it also provides an opportunity to record offshoot ideas to explore that would become lost in the shuffle if we didn't record them immediately. So, add one more item to the Props and parts list:

  • A journal for keeping memories

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Alone in the Dark: A Choice

After encountering two related incidents at different websites, I felt agitated. Not only did I feel agitated, I felt the need to write not one, but two different blog posts to give my antagonists a suitable lampooning. The initial post started out in a mild mannered way, a Clark Kent article of sorts. When I finished the second post, I realized it was the bipolar evil twin to the first, flinging darts at the intended target. A lesson I've leaned is to take a few minutes away before publishing anything hostile in nature. So, I grabbed my camera, ran to my cluttered living room and took a few photos. 

During the cool off period, I realized my second post was off target. I was mad at the wrong party. With a little rewriting, I was able to merge both posts together to create what you are reading now. So sit back and take a few minutes to see if this is a bit more enjoyable than a rant. To allow comparison, I'll provide the second rant post at the end for humor purposes. Of course, I'll strip out the name of the website my frustration was inappropriately targeted at. Enough said, let's dive into the meat and potatoes shall we?

Earlier today, I thought about how I viewed certain members on social networking sites as being similar to carpetbagger and carpet-bombers. "What's the difference," I asked myself, "between a carpetbagger, a carpet-bomber or some of the more self-centered members I have encountered on the numerous content sharing websites?" Of course, without context this makes no sense so indulge me while I dive into the details.

One of the behaviors I've noticed on social networking sites that promote user created content is a tendency for people to focus on promoting their own content. There's nothing wrong with helping others discover our creations. It's normal, healthy and expected. 

But when people fall into a pattern of self promotion--a habit I refer to as carpet-bombing for attention--it goes against the idea of fostering a community where its members help each other grow. Focusing primarily on our own work forces the community into fragmented groups of individuals fighting for the center of attention. If left unchecked, the competition frequently reaches a point where the formation of cliques becomes eminent. People in each camp only votes for people within their closed circle. They sometimes work hard to produce a flood of noise to hide anything the competition (or outsiders) produce. It spreads like a contagious disease, damaging everyone if arbitration does not step in to halt the erosion process. 

To make matters worse, the unhealthy competition that arises in circles where self-promotion is the norm degrades into petty bickering such as schoolyard name calling in many cases. Fundamentally, it forces site administrators to add draconian statements to their terms of service agreements such as the following:
“Section 8.4. It is not allowed to question the decisions of [Zignamuclickclick] and its curators to publish or not publish content or discuss individual decisions in public in all forms of communication on [Zignamuclickclick]'s website. If you disagree about a certain decision contact support.”
This particular statement was found in the terms of service for a large and thriving art community. Yet it's far from friendly and made me question if I should sign up for browse-only activity considering the vague usage of the word "question". Vague terms tend to haunt a person because the other party can interpret it as they see fit. And when a dispute is involved, well, open ended terms are typically used as sledgehammers to annihilate any opposing argument regardless of its merit.

Ultimately, a sense of warfare emerges and it's not only between members, but between members and the service providers involved. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't view warfare as being useful in creating a prospering community.

Let's back up for a second as I'd like to provide background context about my choice to associate carpet-bombing with the term carpetbagger. From a historical perspective, Southerners used the term carpetbagger after the Civil War in a derogatory manner to suggest opportunism and exploitation by what they considered Northern outsiders. Like carpetbaggers, carpet-bombers are less than welcome inhabitants to a community intent upon healthy growth. I use the term inhabitant because they are not truly members in the cooperative sense. With that said, let's return to the main point about being a socially-conscious community member.

A community can be a group of people who bond together as a distributed team. Sometimes, we need to do things for the good of others. We might need to provide commentary or help provide seed ideas to kick people's creativity into gear. But our efforts won't be wasted if everyone thinks of more than just themselves. What you put into the system can come back in the form of not only reciprocal critiques, but interactions and growth from being exposed to different ideas. Giving feedback to another is far more enjoyable when I know they've looked at my works before asking, "Hey, can you read my post about..." or "please vote on my photo of...". To put it in my own words,  I believe many of these inhabitants are fundamentally missing the point of a community. They are treating the situation as if they are alone in the dark. 

Being a community member means contributing more than the content you have created. It involves talking with others, giving and receiving constructive criticism which is far more than flowery words that mean nothing. Take the time to look at what others have done, write a comment about what it makes you feel. And in the end, you may find others come back and start doing the same for you. But don't count on it happening immediately. Sometimes, as I have discovered. it takes time to cultivate social circles filled with people who see you as more than a way to promote their own work. If we contribute to others in a constructive manner with no expectations attached, the worst that will happen is we consume time but may also learn to provide useful criticism through through our interactions and experiences.

As promised, here's the brief, but sanitized, second post in its original form:

The urban dictionary should have the following description under “draconian”:

“Section 8.4. It is not allowed to question the decisions of [Zignamuclickclick] and its curators to publish or not publish photos or discuss individual decisions in public in all forms of communication on [Zignamuclickclick] 's website. If you disagree about a certain decision contact support.”

Good thing I'm not on the [Zignamuclickclick] site as I make this comment otherwise I'd violate the spirit of section 8.4 which forbids even friendly disagreement by its "sit down and shut up or get out," terminology.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Books About Photography Techniques.

I've created lists of books before and once again, it's time for another set of recommendations with photography being the focus today.

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson provides an excellent discussions to help understand aperture, shutter speed and ISO as well as delving into the topic of creativity. One of my favorite books for its technical value.

Night & Low-Light Photography by Tony Worobeic convinced me to go out and pick up a remote shutter control for my Nikon in order to shoot extended-exposure photos.

Landscape Photography by John Hedgecoe provides a well rounded discussion about basic photography principles.

Other books worthy of looking at (even if only briefly):

Creative Digital Monochrome Effects by Joe Farace touches upon digital manipulation of photographs in a monochromatic domain. I find monochromatic works appealing so this book found its way into my collection. The chapter on emulating old photographic techniques, while limited in scope, does provide some nice tips. On the most part, I doubt this book will interest most people.

The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World's Top Shooters by Joe McNally. A visually appealing book but unfortunately, the two used book sellers in my area want to charge nearly full price for the used book so it hasn't found it's way onto my bookshelf. Overall, the photos within the book are gorgeous and have nice write ups from the photographer. But at the same time, much of the details about how a shot was set up are left out. Personally, I'll wait to buy this book at a time when I can find it at a bargain price.

The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes by Joe McNally. Another good book from McNally but this one looks more promising for content. I haven't encountered this one in the used book stores yet so I can't offer much other than to say it comes highly recommended.

Light Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Paul Fuqua and Steven Biver. I found an earlier edition in the used book stores but it had a pricier tag than most with a near full value making it a no-buy as of yet. The details provided about how a shot can be set up for a specific result are detailed so this is more than the author's saying “Don't you wish you were as good as me?” approach. But don't take this book lightly. It requires considerable attention to extract the value and is not an afternoon reader.

There are other books, but these are the ones I eventually intend to have on my bookshelf.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Love for Art is Contagious

Recently, I've watched one of my Facebook friend's display the paintings they have been working on. It's fascinating to watch the progression because it provides an unexpected learning opportunity for me too. Personally, I've struggled with identifying a painting medium which would fire up my interests. I've always appreciated monochromatic works, but it's a style, not a medium. Quite simply, I couldn't identify a medium which looked interesting to me.

When I looked at oil or watercolors, I didn't feel a pressing sense of “I have to do that!” within me. Oils and watercolors are stylish to be certain. But ultimately, I never felt like they are something I could see myself working with, at least for the time being. As a result, the desire to paint only surfaced briefly in my life when I dabbled with an airbrush. Because I wasn't browsing a large cross-section of example work, the incentive to explore a specific painting style never reached the critical mass necessary to set me into motion.

But after seeing a variety of different artworks recently, I felt the urge to seek out paintings on sites like DeviantArt. After looking at works from a number of artists, I came to the realization sketches made with chalk-like materials are appealing to me. Pastel paintings like this one from Laurie Potter definitely catch my attention:

Note:  I'm only posting a site link to the art as I don't want to be a bandwidth thief.

Natural curiosity kicked in and I started skimming through literature about the usage of charcoal, chalk and pastels. While it's difficult to master, the idea of working with pastel paintings triggers my “I have to do that!” response. As with most things worthwhile, I must learn to crawl before I can travel the path of chalk dust. Basics first, specializations later. Since solid sketching skills are a perquisite and my skills are more than rusty, I think it's time to look into a pen and ink class.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Request For Action: Kick Start the Art

Recently while standing at the corner of Under-employed and Change, I stopped and took a look around. Off to the right, the path of Under-employed looked rough. I don't mind rough terrain, but being idle is not my style. The pathway of Change, on the other hand, is a dense thicket of underbrush which obscures my view. But in the bramble, I can see a few animal paths meandering through the brush. Choice time. Let's do an inventory:

Machete? Check.
Backpack with camera and supplies? Check.
Plan? Double check.

The machete comes in handy for cutting through all the blockages in the way and has proven to be a necessity as of late. As for my backpack, it isn't quite as full as it had been, but there's enough to survive for the time being. But the plan has been like quick-sand, nothing would solidify. That is until yesterday.

Backing up to the point when I became under-employed, I started thinking seriously about my options and choices. For the last 28 years, I've been in the high tech industry working as a software developer. When I was younger, I chewed up technical manuals and spit out software. I loved the stuff and couldn't get enough of it. My skills progressed to the point where people valued my strengths once they could see them in action.

But as time passed, the fascination of learning an ever-shifting series of programming tools lost its luster to me. It became an endless cycle of learning a new tool to solve the same old problem. Not only does this sound like a rut—it is a rut.

Fortunately, other interests have been heating up on the burner. From the number of posts I've made about fiction writing, photography and landscaping, it's easy to see where my interests have shifted: the arts. My biggest problem has been a lack of core fundamentals. Not only does it require the ability to visualize the something only within the imagination, but we need to be able to create it into something tangible, i.e. a physical manifestation of the artwork. Essentially, I have ideas, but my skills in key areas such as sketching and painting are primitive at best. Issues with my abilities to translate ideas from my mind to reality is a major stumbling block and is a problem which must be confronted as well as conquered. Because ultimately, when we lack the confidence to try simply due to unpolished skills, it's a massive loss.

Ideas should never go stagnant unless they are of no interest. And I have had numerous ideas sitting in the waiting queue which I haven't tackled. So, how does one go about correcting a deficiency such as this? While the optimal approach will vary from individual to individual, for me, it involves a two-pronged approach: education and interacting with peers who have similar interests. And both of these can happen when one seeks out an educational environment.

The issue of time vs money has been the stumbling block up to this point. If I've had the income, I haven't had the time because my prior jobs have always been demanding. Long hours and deep thought has been the norm. On the flip-side, when I've been under-employed, the lack of income raises enough barriers to require massive change to attend classes. I'd have to strip nearly everything else from my life if I wanted to make real progress by immersing myself in the process. Not a pleasant choice considering the debt I would accrue as well a number of other problems.

For all the problems, I've never given up looking for options. My plan has been to search for a part-time job which would supply a minimal level of income, enough to pay the basics while not requiring the 60 plus hour work weeks certain businesses implicitly expect their “expendable” resources to carry out. Each time I've gone through a businesses “expendable resource” purge, I've tried to find alternative types of work but have failed. That is until recently.

I'll skip the gory details, but suffice to say the possibility to establish a part-time software development contract which is flexible in hours along with being a work from home scenario is within my graps. If it does happen, my budget will be extremely tight but the flexibility in hours is exactly what I need if I want to attend classes.

Not being one to leave things to chance, I'm taking a step which will force me to take action. During the upcoming week, I'm going to stop by at a local college and talk with the staff about their arts transfer degree. Mind you, I'm only looking at part time classes which means an extremely protracted effort. Good thing I'm a persistent fella who isn't afraid of long term campaigns. Once I set plans in motion, if it involves a subject I feel true passion for, I become a juggernaut and will stop at nothing. There's a reason I have been able to carry out stints like working three continuous days without sleep. I have rock-solid willpower when I put my mind to something. 

I've already compared the major schools involved the Seattle arts community. Institutes like University of Washington and Cornish, while extremely desirable, are not the optimal choice for the first round. In the long term, both schools provide the necessary experiences but introduce financial burdens which I can reduce if I think creatively. Additionally, my chances of success at a school like UW become higher with strategic preparations. To that end, the community colleges offer what I consider a spring-board option for improving my chances at UW or Cornish. The two year programs from the community colleges allow a non-traditional student an avenue to attend classes while holding a job. With that in mind, I began to compare the community college choices. North Seattle, Edmonds, Shoreline, and Bellevue offer similar programs. Similar, but not identical. I've attended North Seattle before so it would seem a natural choice to simply re-awaken my dormant student status, but I wasn't intrigued by their class options. After closer comparison, I took a liking to Shoreline Community College. The differences were small, but enough to set the baited hook in my mouth. And so, I sent an enrollment request off to Shoreline Community college to kick start the machinery.

Failure is a potential outcome. The contract opportunity I'm looking at might not be able to provide steady income. Coupled with the need to pay for a single term of classes (with most schools being quarter based here in Seattle), I'll be allocating a chunk of time and money. But it's a risk I'm willing to take. My possible losses would include the cost of tuition and considering it's only a three month commitment per quarter, I'll take on this risk.

Enrolling in art classes is a big change which opens up new possibilities. I like what I'm feeling; the nervous energy of change.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Open Your Mind to New Experiences

Apophenia is our tendency to look for meaningful patterns in what we see from the world around us. In the case of this photo, is it merely a flower or does it also contain something which resembles a cluster of eyes camouflaged within?

Our mind instinctively exploits pattern matching to help us make sense of what we see which can be both a blessing and bane to creativity. When we make the effort to side-step the process of accepting the first thing our mind tells us, an opportunity to notice intricate details we might otherwise overlook happens.

When striving for creativity, resist the habit of always settling for the first impression. Open your mind to new ways of thinking and you might very well discover a whole new world to explore.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fumble Bee

When it comes to photography, quick thinking is important otherwise you'll find yourself looking at a shot that slipped away. Keep your eyes open and stay alert to the surrounding environment.

For example, the bee in this photo would have been a nice focal point but as you can see, I wasn't prepared for the shot.

With winter in full swing here in Seattle, bee shots are not possible so I'll have to wait until next spring before I can give the bees another chance at taking center stage.

Life is not much different. If you're asleep at the switch, it passes by quickly and you'll have nothing to show for it. Look around, see life in different ways and take creative chances. Don't be afraid to try new things because if you don't travel down the many paths that lead to failure, you can't find the one that leads to success.

A Bridge Too Far?

Take a moment to read the following article:

The linked article raises a sensitive question about artistic process: what constraints should be placed on artistic creation? 

On a deeper level, what about photos like Mapplethorpe's volatile crucifix in a bottle or other controversial works? Is the artist violating moral values of society or are they make adding value by forcing us to consider difficult questions?

Because symbols are proxies for our beliefs results, challenging scenarios arise when someone criticizes them in a harsh manner. Throughout the world, there are people from many different societies who will defend their beliefs even at the cost of life. With such strong beliefs in place, should a symbol be off-limits to ridicule? When an external force deconstructs, criticizes or ridicules our beliefs, does it require retribution to prevent further transgressions?
What hides behind the red door of artistic creation?
We live in a world where charismatic speakers can incite hatred by manipulating emotions, especially in situations where fear and turmoil has reduced the defensive barriers of individuals. As a result, society can't take a hands off approach and avoid censorship. Nonetheless, I believe we should strive to manage our emotions in trying circumstances. Passivity is not what I'm promoting. There are times when action is required. But there are also times where a willingness to listen to other viewpoints can be beneficial to our growth, even if we don't agree with the statements being made.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dear Psy

If you've been following the recent news, it's evident the popular South Korean musician Psy inadvertently created a PR nightmare for himself eight years ago when his actions in an anti-war protest concert returned to haunt him. Considerable anger has arisen in the public over his rap in the song “Dear American” which contained the following lyrics:

“Kill those ####ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those ####ing Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully”

Being a Yankee, I ask myself, do his words target me personally? No. More importantly, do I understand what he was trying to accomplish? Yes, to some extent I understand his motivations. After reading what the musician had to say about the matter, I understand he was venting extreme anger over the highly volatile trial of two American soldiers who were involved with the death of a pair of Korean teens. When non-citizens (military personnel in this case) are involved in a potential crime, tempers are going to boil. Placing myself in the other person's shoes, Psy's shoes eight years ago for this scenario, I can understand the feelings a person can experience in times of stress. There are times when we let our emotions form the basis of our actions. It's simply part of being a human being. And Psy did what he felt was correct, he spoke up in public and took actions he felt were appropriate to call attention to an issue which was important for him to try and change.

But even if I understand and accept the fact he was angry, it doesn't mean I like the way he expressed his feelings. Wanting to destroy not only what is perceived as the enemy, but also the family of your enemy, well, that leads to a Hatfield and McCoy feud. In a Hatfield and McCoy style feud, each side will inevitably attempts to one-up the other by taking a “+1” level of revenge for what they consider was wrongful behavior or reactions from an interloper.

Consider this: every single one of us makes mistakes. Psy is no different from the rest of us, at least in regards to making mistakes. He fumbled the ball. It happens. And even if I don't like what Psy said, I'm willing to accept the fact it's past history. Furthermore, has apologized. What more can we expect or ask from the man for his usage of emotional words onstage along with a mock portrayal of violence against a model tank? It's time to forgive the man and move forward so that we aren't stuck in the past. In the end, I have this to say:

Dear Psy, you are forgiven.
-An American

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Old Dog Learns a New Trick

For the last few evenings, I tortured myself with trying to decipher the ancient hieroglyphics for using the free photo editing tool, GIMP. While it's a powerful tool, it's not easy to master. And the documentation isn't always straightforward to figure out either. My quest to find the Rosetta Stone for GIMP-goodness started out with the intent of understanding how layer masks worked. Being a software developer, I have no fear in tackling complex problems so I decided to create a multiplicity self-portrait.

Rooting around on the Internet turned up several discussions about multiplicity which provided enough background details to set up the my shot so I started work on the project. The first thing I did was capture three photos of myself in the hallway. After setting up the camera on the tripod, I set the focus, shutter speed and aperture. Using the only assistants I had, the tripod and the camera's timer mode, I captured three different poses. Each time I tripped the timer, I would make a mad dash to hide behind one of the doorways where I would poke my head out and look down the hallway. When I finished, I reviewed the photos and realized I botched the aperture setting by stopping up too high which created too narrow of an area in focus. Insufficient light played a role in my miscalculation. In reality, it only impacted one of the three pictures because two of the doorways are at the same distance from the camera but merely parallel to each other. Chalk up the f-stop mistake as a learning experience.

Now that I had three photos to work with, I needed to blend them together. I haven't used GIMP for anything other than trivial edits so this was my first foray into something more complex. I knew I needed to work with layer masks but I couldn't quite figure out how they worked from sitting down and trying things with GIMP. So back to the Internet I scuttled. The tutorials I found didn't help much. Most articles glossed over how to edit the mask layer. I'll skip the morbid details because it would take too long to explain. Suffice to say I eventually bashed my way through enough exploratory trial and error trials to blend the three photos together and came up wit this fine specimen:

Sadly, I had to crop the image more than I intended and cut out several shadows on the floor which would have added to the realism. Why? Because I foolishly left a non-relevant cable on the floor and inadvertently moved it in between each shot. Rather than take time to edit my cable faux pas out of the photo, aggressive cropping minimized the collateral damage to the end result.

For the record, I did four separate photo shoots over the time span of two evenings. When all was said and one, it was the first of the four shoots that yielded the photos I used. The three other shoots lacked in the facial expressions I wanted. Time consuming but fun and informative. Additionally, it tells me I need to learn how to control my facial expressions better because it's hard to yield a natural or desired expression on cue. So much to learn, so little time.

At some point I might write a tutorial about the steps I used in GIMP to layer the photo. But for now, I'll skip the details because I'm probably using the tool like a sledgehammer to work on a the delicate mechanical of a watch. The chance of providing incorrect information is simply too high so I'll wait until I understand the the tool better.

In the end, old dogs can learn new tricks--but not as fast as the young dogs learn.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When Your Efforts Go Unnoticed

Before I dive into providing the ho-hum contextual background of today's topic, I want to pose the primary question to think about. If it feels like you're failing at an endeavor with a given set of techniques, when do you decide to try a different approach? Okay, now that the thought to ponder has been seeded, let's dive into the pond.

After a long day, I'm feeling tired and cranky. The day started out with a failed interview which I suspect was doomed before I even stepped foot into the interview office. Inflated egos are not uncommon to encounter in one or more people I meet during an interview loop. Regardless of the scenario, when I encounter boisterous people, it's something I don't enjoy dealing with. After returning home and dealing with the typical feelings that arise, I had to tackle another difficult problem. This is the type of problem that makes my head hurt thinking about it. And to top it off, a long-standing problem has been bothering me lately. Suffice to say, the last  few days have been less than stellar so it's time for a grump-session.

I have to scratch my head and wonder about things at times. What am I rambling about? I posted a picture over on Pixdaus in my gallery. The picture is stylish in my opinion. Basically it's a silhouette of my niece with the Puget Sound and the Olympics as the backdrop. The photo received a grand total of three votes which is fairly weak. But that's not what's making me scratch my head.

When I uploaded my photo, someone else uploaded six photos which had slices of bread as the subject. Okay, so I kind of get it. The plainness of it stands out. A person can look at it and say, "It's funky in an off kilter way so I'll give it a vote”, especially because it was cleverly tagged with “blah”, “boring” and “bland”. But considering each of the bread photos received at least 7 votes each, it confuses me to no end. Mind you, it's not a huge difference in votes but I'm having difficulty ascertaining why my silhouette photo did so poorly. I don't know, maybe my photo is an over used scenario or has too harsh of a contrast.

It's not that I'm calling foul, but come on, a slice of bread on a white paper background is kicking my backside! I feel like I wonder if I'd have more luck by taking a dump on piece of toilet paper and post a picture of that. And to add insult to injury, quite a few of the photos other people uploaded around the same time were receiving on average somewhere between 20 to 40 votes. That kind of rules out bad timing. If the other photos were pulling down numerous votes, people were definitely browsing past my picture. I'd chalk this up as live and learn but I'm really struggling to extract something useful to learn from this other than developing a thicker skin about being ignored.

On a positive note, I will give the Pixdaus site admins a lot of credit for trying to give one of my photos a fighting chance. They posted my dragonfly photo as a staff pick. Too bad the poor little critter couldn't get any traction against the herd though. My fly-boy languished in points by at least a two-thirds margin behind the others typically. Such is life. I'm just grousing, that's all. Photos are hard work to take and it's kind of a bummer when I watch other people cherry-picking professionally shot photos. Nothing wrong with sharing beautiful photos but it's kind of hard for an amateur photographer to go up against photos shot by a stand-in-proxies who are producing National Geographic quality photos.

I suspect I need to alter my approach because I'm not making any tangible progress. My current strategy has been pretty simple. I'm creating art on three fronts, writing fiction, taking photos and creating abstract as well as conceptual art pieces. This includes the process of studying and applying new techniques. My creations are then posted in respective areas I believe are appropriate.  In the case of the stories, the content is sent to professional publishers like Daily Science Fiction. For the photos and conceptual, I'm posting in online galleries like Deviant Art. I suspect to some extent, I'm being lost in a sea of noise. So this weekend, I will re-evaluate the strategies I'm using to create and share my artistic endeavors. Perhaps creating a stand alone gallery in the form of a website might help. Furthermore, a post-mortem on what is going wrong might help diagnose the failing points. And in the grand scheme of things, failure is an important part of growth. It's the struggle builds muscle. And muscle growth doesn't come without pain. Pass the protein powder please, because I'm the infamous 98 pound weakling.

Follow-up note: The last few days has resulted in poor performance on all of my newly submitted material to Pixdaus while certain members are collecting substantial numbers of votes. I suspect a pack agreement has been established where groups of people stick together and vote for each other. Sadly, artistic creation can become second priority because without marketing (socializing, back-scratching, a foray to the casting couch), your work will likely be banished to the dead-zone. The same holds true for Deviant Art. After submitting a decent photo to DeviantArt, I watched the statistics. For the time that my latest uploaded photo was visible on the newly uploaded page (which was less than five seconds), I obtained two favorite votes. As soon as my content pushed off the front page due to the continuous flow of incoming content, my statistics became stagnant with negligible activity. The dime-store analysis is that most online sites are  popularity contests where content matters less than the amount of socializing you do. My new plan of attack will be to create a stand-alone gallery on a personally maintained website. Yes, it will suffer from no traffic initially but at least my works won't mingle in as background noise in a sea of content.

I also realize this is the way the world has worked for centuries. Marketing is an inevitable part of life. Furthermore, I'm sure there are many who enjoy the marketing aspects as much or more than the creation process. To each their own.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bronies: And the Ponies They Rode In On

Don't you just love it when you stumble across a feeding-frenzy, er, popular trend on the Internet? For the last week, I've been finding references to Bronies everywhere. Bronies? Pegasisters? It makes me wonder what the deal is with the “My Little Pony” trend.

While I'm sure many people are well aware of the specific subculture involved, a few of you might be asking what the heck a Brony is. Let's take a look and see what the Urban Dictionary has to say about Bronies:

"1. Brony
A name typically given to the male viewers/fans (whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.) of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren't allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females.
Other spellings: BroniePlural spellings: BroniesFemale 1: Have you seen the My Little Pony cartoon?Female 2: Yes! It's so cute and awesome!Male 1: I've seen it as well.Female 1: You're the coolest brony ever!"

Well now, that clears up the mystery about what a Brony is but it doesn't answer the question about what makes the Brony trend so popular. I'll be the first to admit I'm getting older, but don't get the craze. Well, okay, maybe I understand one of the principles related to the core reasoning. To me, it feels like it's an in-your-face scenario where those involved are saying they don't care what others think about their likes and interests. Fundamentally, the Brony culture is thumbing its nose at the gender stereotype of males needing to be macho. Okay, I can appreciate that. Being who we are is important. We shouldn't have to hide an interest simply because a prevailing bias discriminates against it. You go Bronies! Well, you know what I mean.

I imagine being a Brony or Pegasister isn't much different than being the risk-takers in grade school who were brave enough to wear a pink shirt. Any student who wore pink or yellow took some serious flack in those days. If you did wear one of the neon-sign shirts, you were asking for trouble and you usually got it. It's probably no different with the Bronies. Sometimes a person is driven by unseen forces that compel them to go against the accepted norm and establish their own voice.

Regardless of the reasons Bronies like all things “My Little Pony”, I've been seeing their sub-genre references in more and more places. Shoot, I suspect it won't be long before I see My Little Pony tags among all the other graffiti a guy sees while using a urinal in a public restroom.

Time for me to return to my state of confusion. Move along Bronies, nothing new here to see.