Getting Small

I’ve been getting small(er).  Not in the way that Steve Martin meant (for those of you who may remember), but in my camera bag.  I sold the D800 because the huge files are just unnecessary in my current state of semi-retirement. Also, it’s just too cumbersome to take when I travel, and the lenses only add to the bulk and weight. After many years, my right shoulder is lower than my left. I credit my pal Troy with introducing me to the micro four-thirds format in general, and the Olympus E1 in particular.  It’s a technological and optical wonder in a small package, and the files are stunning enough that I would not hesitate to use it for professional work (note, I said semi-retired, not dead), in addition to the DSLR I still have.  It’s my new back-up camera and the one that will traverse the globe with me.  The accompanying images are from the new Olympus E1.  Thanks to my models, Troy, Jim, George, and Sophie.

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You know a sociopath

What sounds initially like one of the most disturbing statistics you could imagine becomes a bit less so when terms are more accurately understood.  Specifically, I am referring to the fact that 4% of the general population (that’s 1 in 25) are sociopaths, who, by definition, are totally without conscience.  More simply, they do not experience guilt about anything they might do or say.  If you’re thinking, “That can’t be right,” it’s probably because you think of a sociopath as a violent offender.  Certainly there are violent, sadistic, and brutal sociopaths, but there are also those among us whose sociopathy takes less recognizable forms.  Rather than committing genocide (which would be one extreme of the continuum), you undermine a colleague’s project by telling a lie to the boss.  Rather than kidnapping and torturing a young girl, you bully those who are your subordinates just because you can, and it feels good.  Different ends of the same spectrum of sociopathy.

The book “The Sociopath Next Door,” by Martha Stout, Ph.D., explores the concept of conscience, it’s role and development in human society, and the inferences that can be made about the human condition as a result of this reality.  That is, if so many of us are lacking that part of the psyche that others deem essential, can the absence of conscience be labeled as a flaw, or is it a normal consequence of human evolution?

It’s really a fascinating read, and it will get you thinking about who is populating your particular human universe.

Out and About in the Bay Area

As mentioned elsewhere, Kim and I treated ourselves to a month’s respite from Wisconsin’s harsh winter (and apparently this February was a real bitch!) and rented a house for the entire month in the Berkeley hills.  The Bay Area holds a special charm for us.  Besides the sheer physical beauty of the hills, the bay, the parks, the coastline, and the sparkle of SF at night, we have strong emotional ties, as well.  We were married in SF, and Ben was born there. We both still have family and friends out there.  Anyway, here are a few images that I got while we were walking the streets and hiking the trails.

Just hanging out on Geary Street, waiting for Kim to come out of a store.  I couldn’t have posed this guy better if I had a megaphone.DSC_8209-2

Again, my fondness for working with reflections.DSC_8192-2

In Oakland, I came across this guy who had a mike, and an amp, some tapes, and he was as good as anyone I’ve ever paid to see.  He’s a local poet, musician, artist, and I wish I could remember his name and give him his proper recognition.DSC_8322-3

While hiking in Tilden Park, we came upon a group of forest workers who were busy with chain saws doing lumberjack stuff.  When I raised my camera, they struck a group pose as if they had been rehearsing it all morning, just waiting for me to come along.DSC_8496-2

Gallery browsing in SF

Kim and I spent February in Berkeley, and went into SF a few times just to see what was doing in the galleries.
We’re always looking for something, and every once in a while we see something that speaks to both of us. We just really have to look at each other to know that we are both moved, for whatever reasons move us individually. This work that Kim is looking at is not one of those. It would be a source of migraines if it was hanging on one of our walls. Actually, I don’t think we have any walls on which to hang something that size. Nevertheless, it was fun to capture Kim being hypnotized. Interestingly, she remembers nothing that happened the rest of the day.DSC_7563-4

I really liked this geometrical arrangement of “Light Switches.” I found the asymmetry appealing, and the monotonality, combined with the tactile dimensionality of the installation just worked well together. Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy it because it seems they were the actual light switches.
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Points of View

My last post mentioned the Kohler Arts Museum in Sheboygan, where we took Rachel when she was visiting. I saw this exhibit (see image below) and it was one of many that I shot with my phone. I would have thought twice, or even thrice, about shooting this during the film era,
but I have succumbed to the idea of “why not?” It’s in my “What the Hell” folder of images that may or may not move me in some way in the future. That brings to mind the recent article in the NYTimes about Gary Winogrand’s legacy of more than 100,000 unprocessed negatives, but that’s a topic for another time.

In studying this one (by the way, I think the post title would be a great name for this work), what strikes me is that they are not perfectly aligned. Close, but not exact. So now I have to think, was that the artist’s intent, which adds an entirely new level of interpretation, or was it simply a small miscalculation when mounting the pieces? Are they meant to be perfectly symmetrical, or is their seeming mirror-like relationship purposely off by a few millimeters? Or, could it have been the angle of the camera? In looking closely, though, I don’t think that’s it. They are off a bit.

If perfectly aligned, they could never come closer to each other. As they are, however, if they were to move toward one another, they would gently slide along their respective lengths and fit like puzzle pieces. In that vein, I see them as male and female forms.
For some reason, I realized that I was thinking of the left form as female, but I don’t know why. When I try to shift my thinking, it just doesn’t feel the same. How about you? Does it make a difference?

Again, am I going down the path that has been paved by the artist’s intent, or am I just reading too much into the fact that the installation needed just one more gentle downward tap on the shelf on the right?

Or, did the artist do the installation, and accidentally misaligned them, thereby complicating what was to have been a straight-forward statement? Oh, the mind boggles!
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Rachel’s visit

DSC_1590-2For the past two weeks we have enjoyed hosting a lovely young lady from Madrid who Olivia met when she was there during Spring break. Rachel was living with Olivia’s host family, after having aged-out (at 18) of the foster care program she and her brothers had been in for most of their lives. This was her first visit to the USA, and, of course, it gave us an opportunity to take her to see and taste and experience as much as we could jam into the time we had together.

As in NY, where no native actually goes to the Statue of Liberty or to the top of the Empire State Building unless they are taking a visitor, we had the chance to enjoy some of the local offerings. The MAM, the Milwaukee Zoo, the Public Museum, the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan (one of my favorite little places!), lots of great restaurants, Summerfest, parks, more restaurants, a day in Chicago, a couple of days up in Elkhart Lake. Damn, was I exhausted! Seriously, it was all great fun.

We took the architectural boat tour in Chicago, which I had heard about but had never done. It was really fascinating. Highly recommended. The Shedd Aquarium was a hit. Rachel was fascinated and wanted to stop at each and every window. I got some great jellyfish images. Rachel is very interested in photography, so she used my camera for a while and took some of her own stuff.

Rachel’s English is sort of like my Spanish, but we managed to communicate. Olivia is so much better, so the two of them were able to talk pretty well.

It was a tearful goodbye when she left. We all really bonded. She’s someone who will stay in our lives. She went back to Madrid to begin working in a restaurant and attending culinary school. We hope to visit her there in the near future.

The picture: One of the places we visited in Chicago was Millennium Park, with the Bean. Kim knew about it. I had no idea. The Bean is pretty cool. I would estimate that every day at least 10,000 images are snapped at that location. You can’t help it. At least, I
couldn’t. Even knowing that what I was capturing was just duplicating thousands of images taken by others, I had to click that shutter. Too much fun not to. The result reminds me of a Heironymous Bosch. If I could have supplied the crowd with hundreds of little pitchforks, it would have been perfect. Hmmm. Maybe for another time?

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Les filles sont a Paris

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It’s been a wonderful week for all., For Libby, Kim, and Olivia because they are all in Paris. For me because Libby, Kim and Olivia are in Paris. Now that can be misinterpreted, but it really just means that I enjoy my alone time. It’s a gift and it goes beyond the cliche sit-com idea of getting the women out of the house. It’s about being alone with me, with my thoughts, and having an opportunity to recapture a sense of who I am when I am not interacting with anyone or having another person in my intimate space to respond to, bounce things off, vent. It’s very different, and while I am enjoying it, part of that is because I know it’s temporary. I talk to the dogs a lot, and I talk out loud to myself a lot, and I am more of a neat-nik than I realized. I like my little routines, and having things in proper places when I’m through with them. Can you spell A-D-D?
Anyway, my short-lived bachelorhood will end Thursday evening, when I will welcome the ladies home, and it will be so good to have them back.

Long range plan

Thanks for your patience, all 3 of you (or whatever).  Okay, here’s part two of my post about education.  I have to say that it’s not an idea that sprung from my mind, but rather is the resulting growth of the seed of an idea planted by Diane Ravitch (Google her).

As I said previously, I rarely ever had, or knew of, a student who functioned on grade level who was also a behavior problem.  Conclusion?  When minds are engaged, and there is the possibility of success, education can happen.  So how do we make that happen on a grand scale?  There is an answer, but it is not a quick fix, as no social change can be.  And this does involve social change.

The current system pushes kids through from grade to grade, often regardless of their performance or readiness, in order to make room for the incoming batch.  In very short order this creates the armies of students who are quickly over their heads in the classroom, and doomed to academic failure, to dropping out, being without employable skills, and therefore employed on the most minimal scales (if at all), and often unlikely to be able to support a family.  The fractured families that result do not instill in their children any sense of the value of education, as it never existed for them.  So, their kids, and their kids’ kids, will continue to fail and be pushed through the system until they come out the other end as drop-outs or minimally employable.  They will often be involved in drugs and crime because they have nothing else in their lives.

Now, let’s imagine a system, a society, a government, that not only gives lip service to the fact that children are the future, but exhibits a belief in that notion through bottomless funding of early education.  Pour money and resources into the little ones.  Train (and fairly compensate) educators in numbers that can reduce class sizes, and teach in a way that recognizes that there are many different learning styles, not just the rows of chairs, chalkboard, and the teacher in the front of the room.  Do away with graded classes.  A child moves on to the next level when the current level has been mastered.  Eliminate automatic promotion, which is a conveyor belt that leads to mass failure.  Dedicated teachers, aides, current technology, books and materials, creative thinking are all necessary ingredients in the recipe.  Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario.

A child is given the attention and instruction needed, and so moves on to the second, third, fourth grade, with an ability to do the work at each new level.  Maybe he’s a year or so older than he would have been under the old system, but so what?  In each classroom, because all the students are capable of doing the work, more time is spent teaching and less is spent on classroom management (handling outbursts, arguments, fights, etc.).  The child feels like he can succeed.  There is a strengthening of ego and self-confidence. There is a desire to achieve.  This is a self-reinforcing cycle.  Continue this system through high school and you have a generation of students who will graduate, perhaps go on to college, and who can function and be employable in the mainstream workforce of the country.  Families created by these young citizens will me more stable, and the value of education will be passed along to their children.  A vicious and hopeless cycle will be slowly replaced by one of success and future promise.

This is not a quick fix.  It will take time, and it will take the ability of government officials to see beyond their own short-term political goals and step up to do what will serve the generations to come.  And it would take generations for this to begin to make a measurable difference in society.  But who will commit to the future like that, with such a distant benefit?  If only we had started this years ago, when Diane Ravitch expounded on this idea, we’d be in a better place right now.  So, why can’t we start right now?

And that’s the biggest obstacle right there.  We need selfless visionaries in political office, but instead, we (of course) get politicians.  

We, as voters, need to support all efforts to improve and fund our schools.
We need to use whatever influence we have to funnel resources to our schools. In America, teachers shouldn’t have to purchase their own supplies because of limited school budgets. We need to swing the pendulum way to the far side of where it is now.

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