Love at first sight

18 February, 2008

So there I am, sitting in the Udvar-Hazy Big-Ass Hangar outside Dulles Airport. I’d been there for a few hours, wandering about with some of the DC flickrites. The floors are concrete, I wasn’t seeing anything; my feet hurt and I was discouraged. I looked up.

G13763 part one

Ah, now THAT’S the stuff. Snap snap.

G13763 part two

Wow, look at that baby. Have I ever seen anything so graceful?

G13763 part three

You know…I’m no poet. Maybe it’s true what they say about the thousand words, so here. Just look at her.

G13763 part four

Ah, there she goes. Keep your wings level, beautiful.

I scuttled around on the floor trying to get all kinds of other angles, but there was an SR-71 Blackbird in my damn way.

Blackbird SR-71

Did you know it’s the fastest plane in the world? Visitors to the Udvar-Hazy Center like to point this out. Heck, I was even doing it. (Mach 3.)


About every other lip gloss I try smells like frosting. It’s distracting.

In other news, the government has returned flickr to the land of the open internets. Whew! There’s a meetup tomorrow, first one in a long time. Dr. B, will you be there?

I am sorta taking pictures again, but my latest mental block seems to be editing. I get bored before I even begin. Well, not bored, but I feel guilty about using my work computer for photo editing. I hope to get over it soon.

Speaking of guilt, I had a dream last night wherein I was in charge of a beehive (this was inspired by a recent New Yorker article from Elizabeth Kolbert about the bee collapse). I know exactly which line inspired the dream; it’s been bouncing around my unconscious for a week:

I set up my hive at the edge of a small brook that runs through the back yard. Within a day of being installed, my bees—Italians—were hard at work. They could be seen zipping out of the little opening in the front and returning with yellow wads of pollen stuffed into the baskets on their legs. Even my teen-age son found the sight of their proverbial busyness hard to resist. On returning home from school, he would lounge against a nearby tree and watch.

In the dream, I was in my boss’ backyard, in a rush to catch the train to southern England. (This trip was a whole other thread of the dream which I’ve mostly forgotten.) I have this hive and I take it out of the fridge, where it is resting, cause I am too curious to see the bees, real quick before I leave. I open it, trying to ignore the tickly on my hands from the bees walking on me, reminding myself that these worker bees have no stingers (dunno if it’s true, but it calmed dream-me enough to proceed). I’ve never been stung (in my waking life) and I don’t wanna start now. As I get used to the feeling I look and see that the bees are leaving legs and antennae on my hands as they land, which continue to tickle even when no bees are on there.

The hive seems almost empty. I put it down and turn it over and see the queen (cartoonishly large and colored) but I see that the nurse bees are prepping another queen, to replace it since that one isn’t working, I guess. I feel sorry for Old Queen for half a second, then I get distracted by the activity around New Queen. They are attaching all this stuff to her posterior (think the queen in Aliens, but smaller) and I can see it growing right before my eyes. How cool is this! I marvel. New Queen is swelling, she’s all soft and gel-like as if she’d just molted and is hardening. I can’t resist touching the queen even though there is an insistent dream-voiceover, as in a nature documentary, lecturing that touching them when they are soft like this is likely to kill her, especially (as I touch the wings) if I touch the wings. The voice is about a half-second behind my actions, but even if it weren’t I probably wouldn’t have reacted in time. I am sort of compelled to touch her and, having touched her, to put her down gently, which is when I touched the wings. I put her down and hope the universe didn’t notice and that she will work the odds and survive.

The hive gets wet somehow — I think due to my actions, not sure. I go inside. Everyone is washing dishes and cleaning up before the train. I think I’ll wrap the hive back up and put it in my boss’ fridge while I’m/we’re gone, I hope he won’t mind but I don’t plan on telling him anyway. When I go outside the hive is a soggy mess. Note here that I have NO idea what I am doing what with the apiary maintenance, and I am acutely aware that I am totally winging it. (I’m not too anxious about it though, they are only bees.) I pick it up anyway and set it on the counter next to the fridge and begin looking for Tupperware to put it in…but before I find anything it spills or decomposes or something, and honey runs all down the side of the drawers and into the drawer I had open. The drawer was on the bottom, was only around 8 inches square, and it had a chef’s knife (pointing up at about a 45deg angle, oddly) and some other utensils (strewn along the bottom) in it. Not a large volume of honey spilled, just enough to make it sticky, not enough to pool up or anything.

So much for the hive. I mentally write it off (I am even relieved that it took care of itself and became a non-problem, instead of needing more care from me) and turn my mind to getting the drawer unsticky before the train arrives, so when Boss returns he will not find a mess. This is everyone else’s objective also, but MY mess wasn’t in the normal course of things, it was extraneous to whatever had been going on to produce the other, more manageable mess, so I feel extry-responsible while they all just feel the obligation of the post-get-together guests. I take the drawer to the sink but someone is there. They seem almost done but there are only 5 minutes before the train.

I think the moral of this dream is that I should get back to work.

Thanks, Gene

10 April, 2007

So yesterday leaving the Woodley Park Metro I see a trumpeter and a saxophonist playing jazz duets, and I’m all paranoid. Is this another experiment? Is that Wynton Marsalis? Am I on camera? Do I have time to stand and listen? Do I even like jazz??

Reader, I went to CVS. But! I walked slowly.

Someone at the best DC Blog voting likes that I have a thumbnail headshot. Well, because I like it so much, here’s the image in all its glory, where you can really appreciate the expression, earrings and dress combo. I really love the hell out of this dress, although nobody else does. Well, to hell with that! I’m going to Florida this weekend to meet Reaganite‘s parents….apparently it’s 80deg there. I shall pack it!

welcome to the jungle

Hmm. Not the sexiest expression ever. Sorta weird to put up during a sexiness competition. Well, perhaps it counts as “vivacious.” We’ll see how quirky a sense of humor the nothing-to-do-at-work DC blogger community has. Anyway, I do have a secret weapon photo. And two cats.

I should really update my blogroll. Right after I do my taxes, find summer clothes that fit me and are nice enough to Meet The Parents in, get a present for The Parents, prepare my bod for the Florida beach, finish my Artomatic installation, pick up cat food, and correct the galleys of my article before I leave. Oh and somewhere in there I should be solving the mystery of the genetics of bipolar disorder (including the enigma of functional intronic SNPs), processing my pregnant friend’s wedding pictures, sewing up her baby’s booties, mailing it all off, calling her to catch up, and mailing two other packages back to the companies that fucked up the orders — but these can wait until after the trip.

Did I mention my taxes? I had it all scheduled for this weekend. One day of Artomatic, one of taxes. Except I sorta had an Artomatic meltdown on Saturday. 21 feet of wall space I had to fill. 21 FEET!!! Well, not only do I not have the money to nicely frame that much stuff, but I simply have not been shooting long enough to even have the catalog of images I’d be proud — or even simply “not embarrassed” — to display. I had one idea for filling it but in the end it didn’t look good at all. So I went back on Sunday and changed spaces. Thanks to epmd for his proxying and selection of a large space though–if I’d’a thought I’d’a had the option of such a big space, I might have asked him to pick a smaller one, but it didn’t even occur to me that they’d have room like that given what I’d heard about past shows! Actually, I owe a lot of people for AOM favors: miscelena and kneb, bsivad, birdcage and the AOM board, furcafe…the usual cadre suspects. Gee, hope I didn’t forget anyone.

I’ll have to lay in much cash for all those drinks I’ll be buying them at the AOM bars.

excuse exposed

21 March, 2007

This post is just an excuse to get the dick graffiti off the top of my page. I’m tired of lookin’ at it…

I haven’t yet gotten around to editing my DCist Exposed show opening pics. Or my friend’s wedding pics, or…well, I was gonna list all the things I haven’t gotten around to, but it’s too depressing, so let’s just say I won’t get around to making that list, either. There, I feel better already.

Speaking of the DCist Exposed opening, did y’all see my photo hanging front and center at the top of the stairs?? I walked right by it, myself; got there at 7 when it was the most packed, and it was a struggle for my very survival as a human being who likes to have enough space around her to draw breath, so I made a beeline for one of the rooms in an effort to avoid the crowds and didn’t notice any images until then. I was all “where’s my pic” and some friends had to look at me funny and point out that I had walked right by it. Heh. Thanks for the placement DCist.

Despite my pricing being on the high end for the show, my photo did end up selling. (For those who missed their chance to own an Original Techne, I do have a few unframed 8x12s of southbound on hand at the moment, contact me if you’d like to buy one. Also, a larger print will probably be one of my selections at Artomatic later this spring.) Funny thing, though. My image didn’t sell on opening night when I might have met the buyer in person. So when I was told it had sold, I asked who the buyer was, thinking to meet them at the takedown…and was told he “wished to remain anonymous.” Anonymous?? Why, it’s a mystery! Wrapped in an enigma!

Seriously though, isn’t that strange? Let’s unpack this. Either it’s someone I know or someone I don’t. If I don’t know him, why would he hide his identity, wouldn’t you want to meet the photographer whose art you are gonna hang on your wall? Am I missing something there? And if I DO know him, it’s either — to put it delicately — someone I speak to or someone I don’t. In either case, perhaps he kept it anonymous because he knows that if I found out, he’d be in danger of me throwing a shoe at his head (both groups of folk being at risk of this, depending on their motives). I’ve looked into the souls of some likely friend suspects, who deny all knowledge. I believe them, although I do worry that maybe my soul-looking-into skills are no better than George Bush’s, who famously used the technique to determine the freedom-loving character of Vladimir “Pooty-Poot” Putin. Or maybe my friends are just good at lying to me.

Or…maybe I’ll just not ever figure it out, and a deserving head somewhere will go unmolested by footwear. That’s sad. So patron, whoever you are, throw a shoe at your head for me. And thanks. I hope you enjoy the image.

How cool are you?

12 March, 2007

From the Online Photographer:

1. The fewer lenses you use, the cooler you are. Footnote: Four is fairly cool. Three is definitely cool. Two is very, very cool. One, and you are a God, and I kowtow to you.

I use three in heavy rotation: the classic 50/1.8, a versatile-for-outdoors 17-40/4L, and by beloved if annoyingly hard to use and potentially soft Sigma 30/1.4. So a point to me!

2. Committing to one camera is very cool, even if you own two or three of them.

I own a decade-old Nikon SLR from my sister that I use so rarely I don’t even know what model it is. I own a Canon A85, oh must be 5 years or so old now, which got me through the late snapshot years and is manual enough that I got through the initial learning curve of more serious photography. It’s also useful for when I have a trusty child assistant. And I own a $20 Canon p&s I bought in 2002 for a weekend trip I was taking to Paris, which I count because I got some amazing photos on that trip.

But all I use really is my Rebel. Point to me!

3. The longer you’ve been using the same film, the cooler you are.

Kodak 400 that I pick up from Walgreens/CVS for aforementioned $20 p&s? Point to me!

4. The closer your camera is to “mint,” the less cool you are. Footnote: And a corollary: the more you care what brand of camera you shoot, and especially the more you let other people know what brand you shoot, the less you even have a clue what cool is.

Well, this point makes me feel a little better about the dings I’ve put on my Rebel in the last year. Particularly nice is a scar on the popup flash that I got the time my slippery strap slipped out of my hands as I slung that puppy over my shoulder while crossing the street. I had just changed out from my Domke strap and my muscle memory was accustomed to a bit more stickability. The impact was pretty much completely absorbed by that corner of the camera and my 50mm, with no other damage to the body whatsoever. To this day I am thankful that I didn’t have my 30 on. I was upset enough.

5. Using a camera that’s as old or older than you are is very cool.

I lose. But I will be picking up a Pentax K-1000 soon, I think. My first and only photo class, in junior high, used it and I do miss its truly manual nature. Future cool points.

UPDATE: goldurnit. I just found out the K-1000 was released the year I was born.  Ideas?

6. The shorter your longest lens is, the cooler you are.

Boy do I win this one: my 50 (80 effective) is the best I got. (Well I suppose I have my 18-55, but I have used it, literally, twice.) Do I get two points for my longest lens actually being normal, despite the crop factor??

7. The more often you carry your camera with you, or keep it within easy reach, the cooler.

I used to be cooler here, and in fact I was pondering posting on this theme today. When I got my work laptop in the fall, my daily commuting load got a lot heavier. While I often take buses and shuttles, I end up walking 1 to 2 miles a day with my machine and a two inch thick stack of papers on my back. Adding a camera of any size or weight grew increasingly inconvenient, esp since in the backpack it’s not easily reachable like in a messenger-style bag, and wearing the camera (across a shoulder, as I do) with a backpack is not terribly simple either. But I really do miss it and hope to get a better bag soon that will make the load a little more compact and well-distributed.

8. Cool people do not use zooms. Really cool people use cameras that can’t be fitted with zooms.

Maybe I get half a point here. I rarely walk around with my 17-40 unless it’s a Day Of Shooting Outdoors, which I haven’t had many of lately. And I kind of fell backward into most of my kit, the only lens I really chose is the 30 and for my next lens I was considering the 100/2.8 macro. f/1.4 may have convinced me to look into the 70-200/4L instead, though. I guess then I will have no claim here.

9. The more you will shoot for every frame you’ll show, the cooler you are.

Hard to call this one since it’s so relative, but I have gotten choosier over time.

So I get 5.5 + 1 future point. I’ll take that.

Haven’t had time to ul my pics from DCist Exposed yet, although I didn’t get many. I was a little too sleep-deprived, which gets more and more destabilizing a state as I get older. The opening was incredibly crowded, which rules but wasn’t great for my mental comfort, and I left early to have dinner with new Virgina residents birdcage and nikonshooter, so the walk-around-shooting aspect was not what I’d been expecting. Still, mntalkase got shots of me next to my picture with one of the dudes in the shot, and used his budding photographer intuition to save some bad-for-faces lighting. Good job sweetie!

To hold ya over and have at least one pic in a post about photography, one of my favorite shots from the show so far is this portrait of flickr friend bsivad:

I’m putting finishing touches on my paper this weekend, but I had to share this website with you. [1] The general idea:

Whether it’s 39% or 50% of Americans, it’s still an awful lot of people. I started wondering just who they were, what they looked like, and how they lived. Such was the genesis of Armed America: Portraits of American Gun Owners in Their Homes. The idea was to photograph a hundred gun owners, in their homes, and do a gallery show…. [2]

but it turned into a book. The website has a few you can browse, with quotes from people about why they own guns.

I’m struck by two things in these images. One, they are made with a wide lens, 25-30mmish. I base this on my experiences with the widest lens I have which is 28mm (on my crop sensor) [3]. As I’ve discussed before, I believe that shooting portraits wide is always a choice with artistic/philosophical implications in itself, apart from the typical ones common to making any image or portrait. If one wishes to shoot a Pretty McCuterson image, for a headshot say, one shoots with a long lens [3]. On faces, this has an effect that is often referred to as “flattening the features.” (I don’t really like this phrase, but I can’t think of one that describes the effect any better, so.) OTOH, with a wide lens headshot, the features are anything but flat.

Figure 1. Artist Penny Broadhurst. Photos by flickr user Danny North, all rights reserved [4]. On the left, focal length 16mm. On the right, 300mm.

Wide lenses expose people, in one of two ways. They can either fill the frame with the person, warts and all, which is what my last post on the subject was about. The intent can be to distort the subject, or (as was actually the case with the Leibovitz images, which were made the winter of 2001/2002) they can aim to expose the true person. As those shots prove, the context external to the image greatly determines the interpretation of the image when a wide portrait fills the frame. In 2006, never having liked the subjects personally, I read those portraits as sinisterizing, but when made, and when originally read by the culture in Vanity Fair that winter, they were meant to lionize, to represent resolve and strength and bravery. (If they can stand up to Leibovitz’s piercing gaze, why, they can stand up to TERROR!!1!one!!1!).

Another aspect: when looking at a person, we look at their eyes first, and our eyes spend most of their time there as they hop around taking in the rest of the face. In a portrait such as the leftward one, when we take in a face in the normal way, we do the same thing, but when a face comes to us as distorted as on the right, this is disrupted. In this way we see that traditional, “long” portraits allow subjects to exert some control over how they are seen through use of their gaze. Meet the camera’s eye? Look away? All the same choices that we make every day in meeting people’s gazes (imagine the artist coyly looking down or angling her head while looking at the camera–she doesn’t, and we learn about her because of it). But in the portrait on the left, the photographer has interrupted this process and forced us to see the face his way, that is, only able to look at the eyes (which he’s obscured) after taking in the nose and teeth, and hence sending us a message about the subject’s eccentricity.

Here’s one of my favorite wide portraits. The subjects fill the frame, but my aim was to capture the nature of childhood and of summer:


Figure 2. July 2006, therefore, mine was red, as we ate through the holiday package. One thing I love about this picture is that D is, like J, “showing me his tongue” — but he doesn’t realize that a white one won’t make his tongue a fun color. He was to find out later, to his dismay, at which he burst into tears and accused me of stealing his popsicle. (Since MY tongue WAS a fun color, you see.) Hey, he was three.

These gun-owner pictures (go look now, if you haven’t, I’ll wait for you) expose a different way. It’s more like this other image of mine, which is the one that made me aware of the possibilities of wide portraits:

Darlenes Avenue Unisex Barber Shop

Figure 3. Darlenes Avenue Unisex Barber Shop. Made at Honfest, Baltimore, MD, June 2006.

Figs. 2 and 3 were taken with the same focal length, 28mm. While there’s outside context important to understanding this image (as there always is), you don’t need it like you do for the Vulcan portraits. A lot of the information about the girl is in the image itself.

Rephrase that; it’s not really info about her, but about what she represents. About HER would be: more detail in her face/her bigger in the frame, and an un-distracting background. You’d be able to look into her eyes, and it’d be more about her as a person, and the trophy (if there at all) would be an accessory secondary to her, like D’s popsicle or Broadhurst’s lipstick. Here, the Honette is secondary to the trophy, to her hair and her clothes and the whole Hon thing, and so this shot is about her as the incarnation of the event. The image, in the end, is not about the girl at all, but about Honfest, and children in adult costumes they don’t understand, and pride, and so on. (You get more about her from this image Dr. B made.)

Back to the gun owners. The images are taken at home–not on a range or outdoors, not USING their guns, but in the context of their lives. They’re about how their guns fit and their relationship with them. Some hold them as if to shoot, some to present it as an object. Some present them before them on a surface. Some show that they are unloaded [5]. Additional important context is added by the captions–indeed, without them the pictures have far less impact. It’s a fascinating project and I look forward to the book.

My other thought: ownership. If there are pets, they are pictured, and only young children are pictured, there’s no 12 year olds or anything like that. These are more fascinating the more you think about it. Children and pets…possessions of a sort, but also things we steward, as are guns. Guns aren’t necessarily disposable, note the guy with the bayonets on his wall–he’s a collector and like art his guns will survive him, he’s just holding on to them. OTOH, you can throw a gun in a river and the law won’t care; try that with your cat. There’s a continuum of possessions on display here, because defining people through their possessions was the explicit aim of the project.

First let’s do pets. The idea here is to describe American gun owners. Someone — the people? the photographer? While it’s clear he’s let the people pose themselves to a degree, this choice isn’t clear — has decided that pets are integral to these people’s identities, to their life in their homes. Pets are a few things in these images: one is property, but they are also signifiers of the subject’s compassion, statements that counteract the aggression of the weapons.

And pets — specific types of dogs, in this case — can also be a signifier of the subject’s commitment to personal defense, and its flipside/root, their feelings of vulnerability. This reminds me of one of the main points I got from Bowling for Columbine: that our gun culture’s “home protection” meme is driven by an Americanized fear of the Other that is fueled by our diversity, which we prize on the surface, but which runs counter to a lot of human instincts in the end. (Interestingly, the two representatives of the Other in this sample express defensive reasons for ownership that can be read as responding to their Other status. Young Black Man #1 holds a “semi”automatic [6] rifle and poses with his halfbreed pit bull, and simply says “I just think it’s a good thing to have.” He doesn’t say why. And #2 holds his .38 and wears a shirt that has the word “peace” written in 60sish letters in the shape of a gun. He says “I think everybody should have a gun. It levels the playing field.” Interesting choice of phrase in a race context, is it not?)

Kids are something else. All the children on display, alongside the pets and the guns and the furniture and the tattoos and so on, are young. More than one couple refers to their unborn children and the love they’ll instill in them for guns. Kids are signifiers of the owner’s commitment to safety, ways for them to distinguish themselves from criminals and the people who leave loaded guns under beds for toddlers to shoot each other with. However, once they become the right sort of age to actually be able to shoot a gun, they disappear from the images.

I don’t argue guns with people unless/until they’ve had the experience of shooting one [7]. Now, let me explain. I grew up as anti-gun, pro-“well-regulated militia”-half-of-the-Second-Amendment as the next liberal [8]. I had your typical vague understanding of guns and gun culture that most urbanite liberals grow up with. You know, constant gun violence and murders on the news throught childhood leading to the impression that guns=bad and scary , resultant faith in gun control good, Freudian snicker-y disdain for gun owners, aversion to the concept of hunting, anecdotes about accidental gun deaths and constitutional arguments in my debate repertoire on the topic….

Then I shot one. A bunch actually, across a range of calibers. Small handguns, big handguns, rifles and shotguns. (I was a good shot, too.) It didn’t change my personal attitudes much, I didn’t run out and buy any, but I learned something important, learned it viscerally when before I had only intellectually understood it: guns are FUN. They’re a thrill, when you make one go off, it’s like hitting the gas in a really fast car and going 0-60, all in that one instant. Any argument against guns that doesn’t understand that that’s what underlies a lot of people’s love for them — that you are asking people to give up not only their protection from their fears, but a large source of pleasure — falls flat to me now. And so, now my fear of guns is from knowledge, not ignorance, and I can see just how important a strong gun-safety culture is, and just how much of a lid it’s put on this incredible power that so many Americans have in cabinets in their homes.

Damnit, this post got WAY out of hand, and believe it or not I still have more ideas. After the paper’s in.

[1] E. Blair, personal communication.

[2] Armed America: Introduction

[3] As a point of reference to non-photographers, what this means is that there is more in the image than your eye would really comprehend if you were looking at the scene. The human eye “sees” about equivalent to a 50mm lens, which is often called “normal” for that and other reasons. And on the other side, “long” lenses — telephotos — see only a small piece of what the eye sees, which is why they are used in, say, sports photography, where one is far away from the action but wants non-diorama-sized images of it.

hot girl-on-lens action, RFK Stadiumupper deck
Supplemental Figure 1. Right, me shooting with a telephoto lens at a ballgame. The lens is a 200mm, IIRC, and I could not even capture the whole infield in the frame, I was so “close.” In contrast note the antlike nature of the ballplayers, left. That was with a 65mm focal length.

[4] This is fair use, right? I’m used to Creative Commons licenses on flickr images.

[5] To other urbanite liberals unfamiliar with gun culture: responsible gun owners of a certain type will, when showing you their guns, either unload them in front of you or show you that they are unloaded. It’s an etiquette thing. I learned this at a party at my ex’s boss’ house years ago, when we were ushered into his basement room chock-full of guns, and as he picked each one up he, with ritualized deliberation, showed us the empty barrel or clip before handing it to us.

[6] While fully automatic weapons (weapons which fire as long as the trigger is down) are almost impossible to legally obtain, many semi-automatic guns (which fire one or a few rounds per shot), such as this guy’s, are convertible to full after purchase.

[7] I also don’t argue animal rights, animal welfare, vegetarianism/veganism, or animal research with anyone who hasn’t read Animal Liberation or its equivalent. The argument devolves very quickly otherwise, whatever the conversant’s position, because it’s a rare person (like Peter Singer) who has thought through ALL the implications of the position, without personal investment in a particular outcome. I’m not an intellectual/experiential snob about much, but these are my exceptions.

The resemblance of this to how a pro-gun person might refuse to discuss guns without reference to the 2nd amendment is not lost on me.

[8] With one key experiental difference: I used to help my dad make bullets. He owned several guns and had a bullet press, and mostly what I remember is how fun it was to use, and how I was under very strict instructions to handle them as little as possible and wash my hands afterwards. I didn’t grow up in gun culture though, my parents divorced when I was 7 and my mom had basically sole custody.

Oh, I just remembered, once he put his hands over mine with an airgun and we shot bumblebees in the garden. OK, two key differences.

here a link there a link

30 January, 2007

My most popular photo got chosen by DCist for their spring show! I hope to see you all there! (Don’t worry, I’ll remind you about it as it approaches….March 9 is the opening.)

Friend EB sends this article about a British cat on antidepressants. Apparently this is rare in Britain.  ooooooookay.  If Sue lost 7 pounds I wouldn’t recognize him.

Did you take this class in college? Or maybe graduate school?

(Yes, I’m trying to blog more. I actually have a backlog of half-written posts I can use to get back into the groove…)