California dreamin’

Kim and I are ensconced in our new winter getaway in Walnut Creek, CA.  It took a long time, but we have finally returned to the place where we started so many years ago.  Olivia came in from Chicago to spend the week while on break from DePaul, and we took a drive to St. Helena and Napa (less than an hour away) to enjoy the beautiful wine country.  Besides my beautiful daughter, there were architectural details to capture, as well as some interesting storefronts, wine casks, and stuff.  Love it out here!  We’ll return to Mequon in May.




Inauspicious return

It’s been almost 9 months to the day since I last posted on here.  I’ll avoid any obvious parallels to the birth cycle.  Interestingly, my absence and inertia regarding my blog is very much a reflection of who I am in many ways, and the fact of that is an insight into human nature on a larger scale.  We can make adjustments to how we live our lives as we deem necessary (or, in some sad cases, as others deem is necessary for us) in order to effect short term changes and tweaks.  It is the test of time that reveals the truth of a person, in much the same way that a photographer (or any artist) is defined by a body of work rather than by one image.

I look at my history of things left unfinished and recognize that I happen to be a person who sometimes leaves things unfinished.  In that, I am just human.  I don’t judge it, nor do I bemoan my nature and wish I was different.  I am very happy to be my flawed self, and if that means that I post a message every 9 months, it’s how I do it.  Though, I also recognize a blog for what it is, and my ego has decided that it’s time that I started pretending that what I have to say is important and to get myself out there again.  I mean, let’s face it; for the most part, this miraculous technology, in addition to myriad true benefits, has also provided a virtual podium for every one of us to air our opinions, vent our frustrations, show off our art, share our poetry, offer our observations, and either validate our intelligence or display our ignorance.  It’s all about ego.  We are all about ego.  Is that a bad thing?  No.  It’s a human thing.  Deny that you have an ego and you deny that you are one of us.  We can all agree on that, I’m sure.  But, do we all also agree that ego drives as much of our behavior as I tend to believe it does?  Maybe not.

Facebook, blogs, tweets, instagram, all give our egos an erection, so to speak.  Look at the power at your fingertips.  Look how people can come to believe that the details of their quite common lives (which is not pejorative), which they would never have taken the time to share in a hand-written letter, are worthy of being shared.  And then, that worthiness needs to be further validated and measured by the metric of “likes.”  What does it mean to click “like?”  It’s not the same as saying to someone that you like their poem, or you like their hair, or you like the meal they cooked.  It’s a click, an electronic tick that gets added to other ticks, so that your “like” becomes one of 6,422 other “likes,” rendering it totally meaningless.  Could our egos be involved here, too?  When we “like” something with a click, we are just identifying with an idea, filling in a tiny part of our identity through agreement or approval.  It’s all about us,  folks.  People “like” the picture posted of some pretty dessert because of how it makes them feel to participate in the online society, to join the community, to announce their allegiance.  I don’t ever remember receiving an envelope in the mail containing a photograph of dessert, with a note: “This is what I had at Divine last night.  It was awesome!”  Nobody EVER did that.  Which brings us to the question, “Just because we can, should we?”



Sick idea? Maybe. Maybe not.

We’ve all been disgusted with the story of the demise of Cecil the Lion at the hands of the dickless dentist.  Naturally, this event prompted more coverage about big game hunting in general.  It’s truly disturbing that there are all of these enterprises that provide safari experiences to wealthy people so that they can kill trophy animals.  And, they kill them from hides, from moving vehicles, they bait them with carcasses and ambush them.  They are cowards with deadly toys, overcompensating for some profound vacuum in themselves by lording their power over basically defenseless creatures.  Sure, they have claws and teeth, but they never get close enough to make it a fair fight.

I am not a hunter.  I think deer are cute and rabbits are adorable.  I grew up in the Bronx.  Not much of a hunting culture.  Had I grown up in a different environment, I might be less anthropomorphic in my perception of these creatures.  I understand the need for hunting.  I don’t judge hunters.  I’m just not one of them.  But culling herds for the benefit of the greater deer community, for example, or to put venison on the table, is a far cry from decimating the populations of animals that are struggling to survive our poor stewardship of the planet and its beasts.

I detest poaching, and I don’t condone it, but at least I understand the motive.  Humans have created a demand for certain animal items and, naturally, there are those who will satisfy that demand.  Pretty basic.  What reasons, other than blatant egotism and the need to identify with the most primitive concepts of manhood, can be offered by these modern big game hunters?  They belong to clubs, they feed on each other’s egos, and don the costumes of the “man’s man,” the intrepid hunter, the brave warrior.  But, the emperors are naked.  The costumes are transparent, revealing the nasty little boys pulling wings off flies or burning ants with a magnifying glass.  Hopefully, they are a dying breed themselves, and perhaps we can expedite that process.

I can’t fund this (and it would be a criminal thing to do anyway), but just for the sake of  imagination (and the small tinge of vengeful satisfaction the very thought brings), what if there were a bounty placed on the trigger fingers of these club members?  Rank them in accordance with the kill logs they proudly put online, and price their digits accordingly.  Imagine, a million dollars for the trigger finger of whoever is #1 on the list.  Make their trigger fingers trophies.  I envision a whole subculture of collectors being created, moving silently in the night, chloroformed rags and garden shears in hand, looking to make some quick money while ridding society of a plague.  Or, at the very least, forcing them to learn to shoot left-handed (if one is not certain of the handedness of a hunter, then taking both index fingers would be considered acceptable).

Should we begin a Kickstarter campaign?  Dollars for Digits?  I love it 🙂

Body of work, literally

While waiting in the doctor’s office (for some forgotten reason), sitting in my underwear, I got bored looking at the very colorful posters of the digestive, nervous, and skeletal systems.  I turned my iPhone camera on myself and began to photograph small sections of my body.  I found the folds most interesting, and I seem to have more of them now than in earlier years.  It was a whimsical way to pass the time, and I didn’t give them much more thought until I looked at them days later.  Suddenly, they took on an identity that hadn’t been a conscious part of the casual mindset I was in when I created them.  Yet, there they were.  They are literally me, physically and artistically.  Images of some parts of me that have no larger context, and so they are seen separately.  I know it’s been done before, but when has that ever deterred a photographer?  Should that ever deter a photographer?  I say no.  I don’t know if I ever would have thought of doing this same thing in a more thoughtful and deliberate way, in-studio with carefully calculated lighting, because then the idea would have seemed egotistic, pretentious, and mostly, derivative.  But as it occurred spontaneously, I feel it is more pure and truthful than if it had been preconceived.

Certainly, the images could be viewed simply as visual puzzles:  What are those body parts?  How many can you guess?  Sorry.  No answer key is provided, for to do so would then surely relegate this small project (it became a “project” after the fact, after I decided to share them) to the status of a game (also, I’m not sure that I can still identify with certainty which parts are which).

The very simple explanation of these images is that they are the offspring of a brief marriage between boredom and creative impulsivity.  Nothing more profound than that.  Hope you have fun looking at them.  IMG_1362 IMG_1363-2 IMG_1364-2 IMG_1395 IMG_1397 IMG_1399 IMG_1400-3

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.









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.