Thursday, January 28, 2016

Life, Baseball, and Stupid Rules

Ever notice how rules are often made up by people who don't play the game? It happens all the time. Take baseball, for instance. Once again, there's talk of limiting the strike zone. Of going to the DH in the National League. Oh, and the travesty of Instant Replay. Fans (such as myself, if you haven't guessed that already) are not the ones who come up with this nonsense. It's all about the peripheral stuff -- television coverage, commercial appeal, and of course, money -- and only rarely, if ever, integral to the game itself. And, yes, I think about such things. I lead a charmed life.

This minor tantrum comes to me by way of another such rule change that came about late last year in my other beloved passion. Reuters, a most august British news agency, announced that it would no longer allow its photographers to use the RAW file format in their photography. Their reasoning, such as it was, didn't seem to address a legitimate work-flow concern, but rather that a RAW file supposedly leaves open a greater opportunity to manipulate an image, thus calling into question its authenticity. But it completely misses the point of what good photojournalism is all about in the first place. It's just changing the strike zone.

RAW file or jpeg, a committed and talented photographer's point of view is precisely what I want to see. The editorial process is inherent in the act of photographing any event, newsworthy or not: where the camera is aimed, what lens is selected, what sort of light is used, and most importantly, what isn't in the photograph. That's what's being manipulated, not the artifact of exposure, but the very moment in time that the photographer wants us to remember and hold dear. Doesn't matter if the photographer shot it in RAW,  jpeg, or Ecktachrome. And there was certainly more room for a skilled printer to manipulate a tri-x negative in the darkroom than you can imagine, but I don't recall anybody bitched about that.

The great storytellers of our medium have always broken the rules, and that's largely what made their images great in the first place.  Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, SabastiĆ£o Salgado and so many others gave us their personal strength of vision. Their images were powerful, and, presumably, damaging and upsetting, in some cases maybe even uplifting and affirming. Some people don't like that.

Rules have always been made by those on the outside, people who aren't fans of the game, people who want to exert some control. Some rules were just meant to be broken, and others, perhaps, just ignored.

I don't care how long it takes to play the game.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Lay of the Landscape ~

Last week was an interesting week for me, which was great because, (outward appearances notwithstanding), not all of them are. But here's what transpired: I was given a Facebook challenge to come up with a week's worth of "nature" photos to post, and as I said at the time, I felt it really was something of a challenge, but enjoyable and well worth it. Even in my early studying days in the '70's, I never really considered myself a "nature" photographer, and am still unsure exactly what it means, to be honest. It got me to thinking, of course, and I began musing on the nature (so to speak) of nature and landscape photography, and if I was in fact conflating the two unnecessarily.

"Nature" photography, I'm thinking, is something of an artificial contrivance, the (admittedly lovely) fiction that there exists an unspoiled vision created solely for my camera. And I have no problem with this; I believe sometimes I can just point my camera and let the fates take over and deliver some surprises. The fates, of course, is a silly concept -- it's really the lifetime accumulation of our experiences left to think on their own. For me, it's a meditation, and sometimes even a discovery or two.

But I can't help thinking that a "landscape" photograph is something else again. It's a design-on-purpose, to my way of thinking. It's a construction project, it's nature upon which the man-made world interrupts mid-sentence. There is a conscious effort in making a landscape, incorporating purposeful elements of design, and the effort means the world to me, but effort it is nonetheless.

I don't really know if it's all that important, anyway. Fact of the matter is I'm addicted to the photographic image of any sort, natural or unnatural; landscape, cityscape, seascape, or any other scape. And my ultimate love, the portrait. I might approach each in a different state of mind, or maybe no particular state of mind at all. It doesn't matter if I'm looking at a photograph or making one. It's photography as zen, not as artifact.

But what the hell, it's a rainy morning and I have run out of coffee; I should go do a little wandering outside.

Nature calls.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Winter of My Discontent ~

I rarely take a hiatus from posting. Sometimes my travels take me blessedly away from being connected, but in this case it was the usual year-end trifecta of Christmas, New Year's, and bronchitis. Last year, Kona. This year, herbal tea. And then we got snow.
Winter in Portland is usually a crappy week in January. It gets cold, it gets icy, and we get all sullen and withdrawn, not that anyone really notices. It's usually pretty gray and grim around here, which we really don't mind all that much, either. When we get foggy mornings, all the better; it makes for great photography. But that bone-chilling cold kills the heart and dulls the mind, and at this point mine can only take so much more dulling. And then we get snow.

I have a long relationship with snow. I grew up in it. I went to high school and college in Wyoming, and worked for several years in Colorado. It was a regular and predictable part of my life between the months of October and April, so its increasingly rare appearances in Portland are something I rather enjoy. I learned how to drive in the stuff from my early teens, so now I gloat with a smug superiority when I navigate my Subaru through it like a Swede. No, I'm not proud of that. But hey.
Photographically, it's a delight, and to be perfectly honest, I wish we got more. Everything changes with snow: light and shadow, landscapes and textures, moods and humor. As much as I enjoy tramping around in the rain with my camera, even more so in the snow, but our opportunities seem to decline with each passing winter.

I have no fine moral note to finesse here, just these simple observations. The snow I speak of has long since melted into memory, and the rains are due back any day now. Our lives will shift back into normal; we will return to our regularly scheduled program. But what the hell.

Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in a month.