2008

*** Saturday, February 2, 2008 ***

My last weblog entry was a rather bleak poem that must have left more than a few people wondering if I was off my head. Not exactly. I had just become infatuated with someone and yet she and I live very far apart, so I was feeling a little bleak and lonesome. That’s all. Nothing earth shaking. Just the usual romantic pangs coming out in verse!

I think I should say, though, that my blogging efforts have fallen off sharply the last few months mostly because I feel like I’m treading water in life. I rise, go work, come home. Tinker with art projects. I just don’t have all that much to write about. I feel more than a little dull right now, and so rather than bore you (and me) with the details, I omit them.

I suppose that’s not really what blogging’s all about. With a blog you write whether you feel like it or not, and trust that something is being imparted that, in the long run, will be worthwhile even if day by day you can’t see the importance. There’s a certain amount of faith involved, in other words. But I just don’t buy it right now. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hear about what I’m doing, since I’m really not doing all that much. If you really want to see what I’m up to, tune in to my page on Flickr.com and look at my photographs. That’s what I’ve been mainly doing for the past year or so. The rest is merely making a living.

i’ll write more here sometime. When things get humming again. But for now, this may be an awfully quiet blog. So be it. You can always send me an email if you’d like to say hello! I’m happy to answer. :-)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Spent this past weekend taking lots of photographs. It’s funny, the word “refreshing” comes to mind when I think of it. It’s so nice and non-verbal and non-cerebral when I go take photographs that I feel refreshed afterwards. It’s probably why I’m doing much more photography than music right now. Recording music takes so much thought to operate the software that it’s a tough mental exercise sometimes; whereas photography is very simple. Choose a lens, set up the camera, and then open your eyes and snap away. It’s tremendous fun.

flickr thumb 2292891183_0c3282f50b_mOn Saturday night I was down at the Minneapolis Convention Center to watch my friends Dolly and Danielle (and others) from Merrill in another action-packed night of Roller Derby. It’s such a hoot. I had fun playing with a new lens, an 80-200mm f2.8 that I bought recently because it’s fast enough for indoor sports. That was on the Nikon D200. Then, on a second camera - a Nikon D40 - I had a 12-20 wide angle lens. So I was walking around all night with two cameras around my neck. To my surprise it never got too heavy, even though the D200 plus lens probably weighed 4 pounds! I got all caught up in the action (as I always do) and had a ball. At first I felt pretentious having two cameras, but then I realized how practical it really is. You see something up close - bang, catch it with the D40. Then something’s cool on the track - switch, catch it with the D200. It’s a fantastic way to go.

On Sunday I went on a completely different kind of outing. Some local Twin Cities photographers that I know from www.flickr.com were having a photowalk. Photowalks are interesting. I’ve been to two now, and it’s not really like any other kind of social get-together I’ve ever known. In sum, a photowalk is a way of making a group activity out of the otherwise solitary sport of taking photographs. In a photowalk a bunch of photographers all meet at some (hopefully photogenic) location; we all greet each other and/or introduce ourselves; and then we split up and take photographs of wherever it is we are. At a given time (a few hours later) we re-gather and then proceed somewhere for discussion, drink and/or food. It’s really a very nice thing to do. I’m getting to quite like these little outings.

flickr thumb 2292936675_d429fe38f8_mSunday’s photowalk was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a big, beautiful classical-style building on the edge of a park just a mile or two south of downtown Minneapolis. We met up in the coffee shop and then dispersed through the museum, taking photos of whatever interested us. Half the time I simply took photos of artworks that I thought were particularly beautiful. The other half the time I tried to capture a room, or people interacting with the art in some way.

It kind of feels like cheating when you take photos in an art museum, though. I mean, the art itself has already been done for you - and even the lighting and setting has been taken care of by curators. I mean, honestly, with all this in your favor, if you can’t get a good photo you should really turn in your camera! But what the heck, it was an excuse to wander around and look at painting and sculpture and design, which is always nice. I only got in trouble with my camera once, and that was when I wandered into the contemporary art area and began photographing a wonderful exhibit of life-sized horses covered in tiny mirrors. The guard came over and asked me to stop. I felt guilty, but he was a friendly young man and he smiled as he talked to me, so I felt better. It was the most agreeable reprimand I think I’ve ever been given! And I got to keep the photos I’d already taken.

Came home at the end of the day feeling nice and satisfied with myself, and tried to face the job of sorting all this stuff. The thing is, between the two cameras at the Roller Derby I took about 1,900 exposures; and then 600 more at the museum (after all, I was ‘only’ there 2-3 hours). On top of this, there are still plenty of photos I haven’t sorted from the New York trip back in January. So I’m facing a good few hours of viewing to straighten all this stuff out. I have a method I use when I do this: I use ThumbsPlus to do my viewing. I sort the photos in random order so I literally have no idea what’s coming next; then I start viewing them, one at a time. If my gut instinct is bad, I press delete; if it’s good or neutral, I keep it. If it’s particularly good, I hit a button which copies the image into a folder called “Work On Me.” I go back to those later.

In a 4-5 hour stretch I can do several thousand photos this way. When I’m done, I re-sort the photos which have survived back into by-date order, and then place them in folders according to subject where I can find them later.

I have another folder on the same drive which is called Archive. Once I feel like a set has been hanging around too long, or if I just feel done with it, I transfer it out of my current working folder and park it in the Archive, where I don’t have to see it each day. Remember, I’ve only had this camera for one year and 2 months: the archive contains 19,000 images! :-)

Meanwhile, at work, it’s peak season. My shift has changed from days to evenings. I wish I was working the same hours as last year: 10pm to 6:30am. When I got off work it was dawn, a perfect time for photography. But instead I’m on a terrible shift, 3pm to 11:30pm. I sleep right through dawn and work right through dusk. I’ve had to resort to subterfuge; this past couple of weeks I’ve gone out around 6pm “for lunch” and taken extra time to go to this or that photo location. This evening, in fact, I was out shooting some greenhouses on the U of M campus that I spotted while driving along last week. I’ve literally been waiting for a cloudless day so I could photograph them at sunset with a clear sky, since they’re all lit up with grow lights from within and have this fantastic brilliant orange glow after dark. But the lights are only on for a few hours after dark - I guess to give the plants within a full 12-hour light cycle. Anyway, I’ve been worrying that, as spring gets nearer and days get longer, my chance to photograph them after dark becomes smaller and smaller. So I had to shoot them now or sometime soon. Around 6pm I looked out the window at work and saw it was a clear-sky sunset. Time for action! I said I was going out to do some “errands” and then floored it to the greenhouses. Was outside about an hour shooting them. Really, I need to go back and do this again several times, it’s a fairly interesting and rich subject. But I have a feeling I still managed to catch a few good ones. We’ll see.

My fingers were *frozen* when I got back in the car, by the way. They were going numb and actually hurt. Must remember to bring along hand warmers next time. (Or maybe it’s time for electric heated gloves? I’m not kidding ... they really make such things.)

Back to Saturday for a second. The Minneapolis Convention Center is located downtown and it’s pretty darn huge. There are four large halls in the place, each the size of a small hockey arena. Then there are also countless other rooms, dining areas, etc., etc. The place is truly gigantic. And busy; the two times I’ve been there so far (both for roller derby) there have always been several other events going on at the same time. This time it was amazing! They were holding some kind of regional or statewide high school cheerleading competition, and so there were literally hundreds and hundreds of teenage girls there, plus (of course) all sorts of excited parents, coaches, teachers, etc. When I arrived for the derby it was about 6:45pm and the girls were all dressed in their competition uniforms. But when derby was over - around 10pm - and I came out, they had all changed into evening wear for the awards ceremony. They were so cute! All these sixteen-year-old young ladies walking together in superexcited omigod groups! And what truly made me smile was what a contrast this was to the company I had just been keeping moments before. I had just walked out of a room full of roller derby “tramps” wearing leather, fishnets and helmets, into a river-sized flow of little princesses in their twinkling jewelry and sparkling eye makeup and feminine gowns. Awesome! At that point I had packed the camera and was too tired to think about taking pictures, but trust me, it was quite a colorful scene!

I’m starting to think that hanging around the Convention Center might be a good idea re: interesting photo ops. I mean, okay, hanging around teenage girls taking photos might get me arrested ... but surely there must be other things where nobody’d mind a middle-aged man wandering around with a camera? I’ll have to visit their website from time to time and see what’s scheduled.

*   *   *

flickr thumb deebd 2269163199_18a97bf43d_mIt was especially fun this past weekend because I met a few Flickr members who I’m a big fan of. In particular there was one gal named Deirdre, who goes by the screen name deeb’d, that I was thrilled to meet because she does such amazing stuff. It was fun to talk with her and compare styles and stories. I love symmetry and big, awesome views of things with rich colors. I suppose I have a very classic (or old-fashioned!) eye. Deirdre, on the other hand, loves getting up close to her subjects - often (but not always) to the point where the subject becomes nearly abstract. I often look at her photos and think, “Wow - I really need to try that sometime.” Meanwhile, she recently commented on one of my photos, “I need to remember to step back sometimes!” Ha! A new friendship of opposites. :-)

flickr thumb ericka 2090776624_32071cb808_mAnother cool photographer there on Sunday was Ericka, who takes wonderful photos, often moody and full of atmosphere and great lighting and textures. She uses film and develops it herself. (I’ve still never tried that.) Ericka is fairly quiet in person, as many of the photographers that day seemed to be. At least, to begin with; later at the restaurant as we loosened up people became more chatty. That was fun.

How wonderful and unpretentious these people were. It was such a pleasure to spend time with them. I have to say I’ve really found being a member of Flickr to be rewarding. It’s an online world that’s *not* all about defeating hordes with swords; it actually consists of creative individuals who are (mostly) grownups. The variety of personality types and styles on Flickr is a sight to behold, and I never get tired of exploring it. It truly is a wonderful place.

Also thought-provoking. During the past year it’s been very interesting for me to observe what kinds of photos different people post. There really are very different ideas out there about what photography is and what it’s most useful for. For example, my Flickr collection of photos (Flickr calls this my “photostream”) is where I put my best artistic images. If I go out to roller derby one night and take a bunch of photos, I don’t simply post these to Flickr. Rather, I take them home, sort them, choose the best, and then work on these in Photoshop. Only the ones that I think are truly interesting, that I’m most proud of, get put on Flickr.

But I’ve noticed that with many other Flickrites it’s not the same thing at all. For instance, there’s a whole category of people that I call snapshooters - people who simply dump photos on Flickr as a way of sharing them with their friends. Mostly this type of individual does very little work on their photos. They’re not trying to be artists; they simply want to record things that have happened to them. I wouldn’t say the majority of people on Flickr are like this, but a fair number are. I mostly avoid them, however. Their images (frankly) bore me.

Then there are the photobloggers. These are people who take photos of their lives every day or so and then post them online as a kind of visual diary. Sadly, while this may sound potentially interesting, it’s mostly not. The photographic quality of photobloggers’ photostreams is usually indifferent, and the subject matter is not nearly as engrossing as the bloggers seem to think it is. Photobloggers, like snapshooters, bore me. I’m not interested in the pedigree, life, circumstances or background of your photograph. I’m interested in the images themselves.

Then there’s a really striking category, the self-dramatizers. This is a kind of fascinating subgroup. Almost all of the ones I’ve seen so far are women, although I’m sure there must be men out there doing this as well. Maybe I just don’t notice the men? Anyway, these women are kind of like photobloggers, although they put more effort into their images and may actually show a spark of photographic talent. They take photos of themselves in different states of dress and undress, in different kinds of light, sometimes with props, sometimes in tears, sometimes with a bit of wit, but more often looking lonely and forlorn ... and they write descriptive captions to accompany their photos that speak of deep thoughts, mysterious moods, and whatever the hell else they think will make them seem fascinating. At first I found this category of Flickrite interesting, then later amusing ... but I have to say now I’m completely put off by the self-dramatizers. What I once took for sensitive souls now strikes me more as a bunch of callow exhibitionist actresses all saying, “look at me me me.” They don’t contribute one redeeming idea or thought to the world besides clichés and an endless “Aren’t I interesting?” subtext. Pah. If you’re *really* a woman with a poetic soul and the sensitive spirit of a flower, you’re not on Flickr posting photos of yourself. You’re posting photos of the world you see around you. Or you’re not even on Flickr at all.

My favorite photographers on Flickr are the creative types. These are the ones I respect the most. And try to be like.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Went out last night after work (around midnight) but didn’t feel like going home. So I pointed the car towards downtown Minneapolis. I figured I’d do a little night photography for a while. Maybe down by the river, I was thinking. Maybe the bridges or something.

I took the freeway and got off at 11th street and then proceeded to make all kinds of wrong turns and get myself thoroughly lost. I hate downtown Minneapolis! The thing is, it’s not really a single grid, it’s a series of grids that follow the twisty Mississippi River, and it’s easy to think you’re on one grid and going north when in fact you’re on another grid and going west. I was tooling along and thought that in a moment I’d see the river when, to my complete surprise, I came to the stadium instead. Yeesh.

At one point I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and ready to throw up my hands and go home, but something in me really didn’t want to give up, so I stuck with it. I finally ran into University Ave., doubled back, and found the part of downtown that I wanted. I parked the car and jumped out, got my tripod and brand-new Crumpler bag out of the back seat, and happily turned towards the river.

And ... oh my God! It was stunning! Somehow there was no wind and as a result the Mississippi didn’t have a ripple in it, not a single one. It was a still and smooth as glass. And there overhead was the beautiful Hennepin Avenue bridge, with its long strings of pearly lights, perfectly reflected in the water below.

I was absolutely stunned. I got my camera out and began putting it on the tripod, setting things up. Times like that I have to say I feel more excited than I’ve ever felt anywhere else, even in the theatre. It’s a moment where you just know that the photographs are going to be good, as long as you don’t screw up operating the camera!

I ended up staying there for nearly four hours. It was about 12:30-1:00 when I started, and I finally headed home around 4. The whole time the water remained still, the air didn’t move, and not a single person came near. I roamed around on the bank of the river, trying to avoid icy patches, setting up the tripod in the snow. I frequently had to grab on to a tree or rock when, entranced by the scene, I stepped on a frozen puddle slick as glass and nearly took a header. As I moved down the bank towards the bridge I came to some stairs which led down to the shoreline below. I went down them, but again my feet kept slipping and I honestly wondered if I was going to wind up in the river. But the scene was so lovely, and the angle from this little patch of shore was simply gorgeous. At one point I was on my knees in the snow, with the tripod lowered for a better angle, and when I finished exposing the shot I said out loud, “That’s it ... I’ve taken the most beautiful photograph in my life. I can rest now!”

flickr thumb 2328867588_bab268e035_mI was joking but it really was a stunning scene. And when I remember it now, it’s striking how much persistence paid off that night. Not only did I persist in getting to the river when I was lost in the car and part of me just wanted to chuck it and go home. I also persisted when my toes began to freeze, and my hands get numb, and my feet were cramping from being too cold. I kept seeing new image opportunities, and so I’d sigh and move the tripod and get new photo after new photo. I put a lot of care in, too. One of my favorite tricks is to look at the photo on the D200’s playback screen and then say to myself, “If I was looking at this at home, what would I want to change? Would I want to move the camera? Pull back and see more? Zoom in? What?” It’s an incredibly helpful tool, that little gizmo. It really guides me a lot.

And god bless that 12-20mm lens! It’s so fantastic. You’d think a wide angle lens in the presence of big vistas like the Mississippi River is crazy, but when you get up close to big objects like a bridge it’s simply wonderful. Even though the lens distorts, making straight lines curvy, it does so in a cool way. I just love it.

It’s funny how photography has really settled into my life and taken root. In a way that I thoroughly like. For the past 2 years I’ve been searching for a substitute for acting in my life, something I could do that was creative and rewarding. I tried making models (the Cutty Sark), but the problem with that is it takes a year or two just to finish the thing. I need to feel a sense of accomplishment at slightly less long intervals. Then I put together a music studio at home, and I was convinced that would be just the ticket because I’ve always loved to write music. But no, interestingly, I haven’t been that crazy about recording since getting everything all set up. I think part of it may be lack of audience, part of it that I just don’t identify with the performing musician thing, and part of it simply that it’s a very technical exercise to make a recording. You have to get so much stuff up and running to get the ball rolling. I want a simpler path.

But photography is perfect. The technical skills are real, but they don’t overwhelm the artistic side. Cameras are neat little gizmos, but you can have one up and running in less than 20 seconds once you know what you’re doing. And then it’s pure creativity - capturing light as it tumbles through the world around you, over and under and around objects, through things, from within things. And then later, taking these images home and being even more creative with them in your little world of digital post-production. Finally, posting them on Flickr for my friends to see. An image can go from world to camera to photoshop to Flickr in a matter of two or three hours. Beautiful and simple. And I can’t describe how happy this all makes me. I feel really at peace. I feel like I don’t *want* to go back to acting when what I’m doing makes me so happy. I feel like I just want to do this, and live like this, and think of nothing else.

I wonder if I’m changing? I wonder if my life’s goals are evolving? Am I moving away from the performing arts?

Don’t really know. The only reason I ask is this: if you had a time machine right now and you could bring my 21-year-old self forward in time to meet me now, at age 48, Young Paul would be absolutely *stunned* at this turn of events. As would 31-year-old Paul. And even 41-year-old Paul. Contemplating not acting? Given the theatre-mad context of my life, that seems like a mammoth change.

But is it? Maybe I simply don’t know myself as well as I thought I did. Maybe I was *always* a photographer, who just went through 25+ years in the theatre as a kind of long training ground? Or maybe some other theme is at work altogether here? Who knows?

Do I need to? Probably not. Follow the heart is what they say. Follow the heart.

On a completely different note, what is it about root beer? All my life I hated it, and lately I suddenly love it. Is this some kind of literary symbol here? As the soul changes, so changes one’s taste in soft drinks? Crazy. I’m drinking a diet root beer right now, and it’s fantastic. I think I’m losing my mind.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I’m just one of those people who has rotten follow-through, I think. About three weeks ago I went to Guitar Center with a gift certificate I’ve had for a long time and spent the whole thing ($70) on presents for my niece Hadley, who is learning to play guitar. I got her a capo, a tuner, a set of strings, a string winder, and two wonderful books of simple but fun songs that she can learn. I then dropped by the post office and obtained a box, and put everything in the box.

And there it sits on a chair in my living room, unmoving, slowly becoming part of the furniture. Good Lord, Paul! Just finish! Go to the post office and mail the darn thing!

It’s partly this shift. I work 3pm to midnight right now, and I have to say of all the shifts I’ve ever worked at Merrill this is by far my least favorite. The problem is the sun. There are positively no solar cues which coincide with my life right now. The sun sets while I’m in the middle of my work shift, and it rises while I’m fast asleep. So I live kind of cut loose from the solar cycle, in a weird netherworld where light and day operate on different rhythms. It’s maddening and wearying, and I really can’t wait until it’s over.

Anyway, not to kvetch. It’ll be done soon. On March 31 I return to a normal day shift. Woohoo! I’ll be so happy.

* * *

This week I’ve begun shooting with a Nikon D300. It arrived on Monday and I spent many gleeful hours since reading the manual and tinkering with the settings. I can see this is going to be a slowish getting-to-know-you phase, however, since the camera has a million settings, tweaks, etc., and the manual is pretty thick. Fortunately it resembles the D200 closely enough that I had no trouble getting up and running with some basic functions pretty fast. So I was able to take what seems to be the obligatory bad first few pictures with any new camera, where you’re focusing on your foot, or the wall, or the cat - just to see how this remarkable little machine behaves.

00504_nikon-d300-dslr

This is a Nikon d300 with the optional extended battery pack on the bottom, which - of course - I got as well.

The D300 is without question one of the best cameras on earth that you can hold in your hand. Color, optics, software, sensors are all hands-down better than almost anything else out there. About the only way to improve on a D300, in fact, is to invest five grand and get a Nikon D3 ... either that or start investigating specialty cameras that cost many thousands of dollars and are, generally, not built for hauling around in a bag in the real world.

So ... am I happy? I’m ecstatic! I actually had a hard time sleeping on Sunday night and woke up hours early on Monday, eager for the UPS man to come. It was like Christmas and I was a kid all over again. Of course, wouldn’t you know, ever since getting the camera the weather outside has been dreadful (snow, slush, rain, overcast - bleah) and so there’s been no real opportunity to go shoot anything. But if this goes on another day I may try something new (for me) and do some indoor studio-style shots. I’ve got a couple of electric guitars, for instance, which look rather nice. I’ve thought from time to time it might be fun shooting them. May give it a whirl.

Anyway, this is one happy camper you’re hearing from right now. I am practically bouncing in my chair all day long I’m so happy!!!!

As if with the notion of laying down my previous camera (my beloved Nikon D200) on a high note, over the weekend I went on a kind of marathon of picture-taking. Saturday began at 11 am in downtown Saint Paul, where I went with Ai Ling and Wayne, two friends from Flickr (I also know Ai Ling from Merrill, where she used to work). It was St. Patrick’s day, and our intention was to shoot the parade. Did we ever! Since we got there early we had plenty of time to wander around and take photos of people gathering. There were firefighters, policemen, family clans, civic and social clubs, roller derby girls ... and a whole gaggle of folks of indeterminate or no organizational provenance but who came in a positively tropical array of vivid and imaginative costumes.

In the course of the next hour I became more & more relaxed being around the parade folk, to the point where I think many began thinking I was some sort of official photographer. So much so that when they began lining up for the parade to officially begin, no one cared that I was still out among the participants happily snapping away. So I was able to walk beside the police band, behind the flag bearers, pretty much anywhere I liked. I was in heaven.

Two hours later I was still in heaven - but also now in pain! And exhausted! Who knew that darting around a simple 5-block parade route with a bunch of happy Celts could be such a workout? Wayne was bushed too, but Ai Ling was fine and ready for more. Sheesh. So after stopping for coffee and a snack we bid Wayne adieu and then roared off to downtown Minneapolis for Flickr-athlon part two.

The group in Minneapolis was much bigger. About 15 people showed up, and here are the Flickr screen names I remember: .K, DaveP_MN, ANVRecife, justthejustman1, ibran, e is for ericka, .Bala, A-Wix, massdistraction, The Jer, Mur25ry, jpnuwat, Dels, herecomesanothersongaboutmexico, waiting line. There’s probably more ... if I left you out, sorry, I’m brain dead. And besides, who can remember these things? Anyway, what a hoot! We met up right by the Mississippi River in an area called Mill Ruins Park, where old grain mills have been turned into a rather nice little public space with running water and picturesque rusty mill girders. After a few minutes of meeting and greeting, we split up into small groups, which in time scattered into even smaller ones. That’s how it goes at these things. You only really see everyone at the beginning, and maybe again at the end if you decide in advance to go for coffee or a beer later on.

If you’d like to see all the photos that were taken that day by the various photogs (including me), click here. There are some really talented people in this Twin Cities bunch. It’s fascinating too how we all have different styles. To tell you the truth, I don’t find that Mill Ruins park terribly inspiring as a photo subject. It’s a bunch of old crumbled-down mills that have been made pretty by the city. So it’s really not a ruin at all; it’s a pretty ruin-themed park. How interesting is that? Oh look ... I can take a picture of the way the architects have arranged this grass with an old girder! Bleah. But then after getting home I looked at some of the things other people had shot that day, and I was very impressed. Just goes to show, a lot of times the creativity lies in what you choose to see.

You know, I just want to add here that I’ve gone to a few live Flickr meet-ups in the past couple of months, now, and it’s rapidly becoming a very much-cherished part of my social life. The past two (nearly three) years that I’ve lived in Minnesota, I’ve always regretted that I didn’t have a good theatre substitute to occupy my time. I couldn’t do plays because my job requires travel and a flexible schedule, which would play havoc with any stage production. So what else was there for me to do? Making models (the Cutty Sark) was fun for a while, but it just takes way too long to finish a project, and I don’t have that kind of patience. Music is the same way: it can take weeks to make a good recording. And there’s also the fact that, as a nearly fifty-year-old man now, I simply don’t relate anymore to the MySpace youth-culture pop-and-rock music scene. I needed something else, something simple, direct, fresh, and with a bit of social contact involved. This is why photography has been such a godsend to me. It’s not just any old creative pursuit. It’s exactly the one my life needed right now.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

* Part One *

A few weeks ago I had lunch with my friend Ai Ling. She’s a friend from Merrill, where she used to work on third shift as a proofreader. I met her last year during March peak season. I was there as production support, but I had just bought my Nikon D200 and it turned out Ai Ling was a photographer of considerable gifts. So we began chatting about cameras, etc., and continued the friendship outside of work on Flickr.com. On Flickr she goes by the name chilli monster, and her photos are just fantastic.

About 6 months ago Ai Ling left Merrill, and I didn’t hear much from her except now and then on Flickr. I know she started up her own business doing wedding and engagement photography, plus portrait sessions (families, kids, etc.) Then one day she sent me an email asking if we could get together for lunch sometime soon, as she had something she wanted to ask me. Ai Ling is happily married, so I knew it wasn’t that. Curious, I happily went and met her and her husband Dave - a great guy - at lunch, and she told me she was going to have a baby! After congratulating her, she went on to ask if - after the baby arrives - I’d be willing to become her new #2 photographer for weddings, since her husband Dave could no longer fulfill that job as he’d be busy at home being a babysitter!

I was very pleased and surprised! Ai Ling’s photography business means a lot to her. She wouldn’t screw around with a request like this. So I thought, wow, what a compliment. And I also thought, wow, this is a really interesting offer, I’ve never shot a wedding before with anything like real equipment and purpose. And so after thinking about it for only a minute or so, I said yes.

And so, on April 18th, I will become a wedding photographer! I will be joining Ai Ling at some location which I’ve still to learn and will proceed for the next eight hours to be a hired-gun photo guy for the first time in my life. How cool is THAT? :-)

Thank you, camera gods. :-)

* Part Two *

Yesterday at work I signed a contract with the North Star Roller Girls roller derby league. The same femmes fatales that I’ve posted here and on Flickr for some time. I am now officially permitted to attend their bouts with my cameras and snap away, unmolested by security, to my heart’s content. Fantastic! Wahoo!

Thank you, camera gods! :-)

* Part Three *

During the St. Patrick’s day parade a few weeks ago I took lots of photos of firefighters. They were very friendly, and they also had a great prop - a ladder truck with a bunch of kids loaded on top. I took so many of these folks, in fact, that I decided to offer them to the department on the chance they wanted them for a website or just for prints.

The guy who answered my email is named Mark O’Dell, a very nice fellow who is both a firefighter and a part-time department historian. He and I exchanged messages, and the upshot is that on Friday before work I visited the fire hall (Station 8) in downtown Saint Paul and delivered a CD of all the photos I took of the firefighters and their families that day.

The station house was beautiful - brand spanking new and clean as a whistle, with (of course) gleaming trucks and fascinating equipment. Mark led me back to the off-duty area, where I said hello to a few of the other firefighters. After talking shop about the photos for a bit, I mentioned to Mark that I’d love to come back with a camera sometime and shoot the station and the firefighters themselves. And he said, “Sure. Just get in touch anytime you’re free and you can come on down, we can roll the trucks out for you.” Roll out the trucks for me!? My heart went BOING!

Then it gets even better. He said, “If you’re really interested ... the chiefs have been talking about starting up a program of firefighter photographers to document fires. We have forensic photographers but we’d like to get shots more of firefighters in action, human interest, etc. You would get a pager and we’d let you know whenever there was a call.” At this point my heart was absolutely leaping and I think I said yes in every language I’ve ever known. Then came the capper. “I don’t know how close we could let you get. But ... we’d probably give you a helmet, and a jacket that said Fire Department Photographer.” Now how cool would THAT be! Oh my god! It’d be the best costume I’ve ever worn, hands down!

So I am *definitely* keeping in touch with Mark O’Dell! Can you imagine? I have a pager that rings, and I’m off to the fire! Get there, park, put on my hat and coat, get out my camera gear and start snapping away! Not as a bystander, mind you, but as part of the Fire Department! Oh man, I think I need to go lie down. This is the most exciting thing I’ve run into in years!!!

Camera gods! You rock! :-)

All because I bought a camera in December 2006 and then joined Flickr.com about a month later. This has been the most fun I’ve had since I stopped acting to join Merrill back in 2002. And it just keeps getting better. Wow! So, so cool.

*  *  *

With a day that started off like that, how could it possibly get better? When I got to work, I won the bingo game that we run each year during Peak. I think I seriously need to go to a website in a few minutes and buy a lottery ticket or two. My luck these past 24 hours has been crazy!

Today is a beautiful sunny day outside. It’s about 2 pm, and I’m already getting excited for tonight to come. I always get excited about Roller Derby, it’s so much fun. And I usually have some new thing I’m going to try. This time I’m going to attach a flash to both cameras and shoot that way. I’ve done everything so far in available light, and while it’s fun, it also means you lose a *lot* of photos to focus and blur issues. With a flash, of course, I can’t shoot high-speed sequences, but that’s okay. I’ve shot plenty of those. It’s time to try something new.

I don’t anticipate any issues with the D300. I’ve gotten incredibly used to it for the short time I’ve had it. The improvements over the D200 are just fabulous. I recently discovered that there’s a place on the menu where I can change the behavior of the image processor in fairly nice ways. I really like this, as I can tweak it for high-contrast or low-contrast situations. And I also adore the big viewing screen on the back. I think it actually helps me take better photographs, because I can really look at the composition of a photo right after taking it and see what I like or don’t like about it. That’s a huge bonus.

Meantime ... in the rest of my life ... March peak is finally coming to an end at Merrill. That means I can return to a normal day shift again starting Monday, which I’m quite happy about as it means I’ll be getting off work around 6pm, just a short while before sunset. I’m already mulling in my mind a list of places to go photograph in that light. Wait ... this is supposed to be “the rest of my life,” not more photography. Sorry. What else is going on in the rest of my life? Hmm. Not much, actually. My brother-in-law Jeff’s birthday is coming up in a few days, so I have to remember to get him something over the weekend. Every single year I manage to completely overlook Jeff’s birthday, and have done so since time immemorial. So it’s time to make up for that. It won’t be diamond cufflinks, but it’ll be something nice.

And it looks like I’ll have to put a bit more money into the car. The ABS light came on the other day and stayed that way, so now I need to go to a mechanic at some point and see how serious it is. I did a bit of online hunting and it didn’t look as if the brakes were going to fail because of this light or anything like that; it’s just the anti-lock feature won’t work right now. Probably it’s because of something wrong with some gear, the article added. So I won’t rush. I’ll wait until Ai Ling pays me for the Nikon D200, which I sold to her last week for more than a few hundred dollars. Sigh. Love that camera. I’ll miss it. When I have the money I’ll go see what this ABS mystery is all about.

See? I can’t avoid the subject of cameras and photography. I’m like some teenager who does nothing but play World of Warcraft. I don’t have any other topics of conversation. I’m pathetic.

No, I have other topics. Here’s a big one. I’m considering packing up the Cutty Sark project in my apartment and converting that bedroom into a recording/music room from a model-making room. I think I need to accept the fact that the Cutty Sark is on indefinite hold (i.e., dead for now) and, rather than let all that paint and all those tools just keep on sitting there taking up space and gathering dust (the paint has mostly dried in its bottles) I should make a clean break. I can always resume the project in the future if I’m inclined; but for now, the space is simply not being used, and that’s a shame.

And the music equipment that I have - instruments and recording stuff - is just too crowded out in the living room surrounding my PC. The only reason it’s there is because I’ve been wanting to use the same stereo system for hearing both my Pro Tools recordings and my regular PC music. But that’s stupid; it wouldn’t cost much to get an amplifier and some decent speakers for the Pro Tools studio. And by packing up the model stuff, then moving the music stuff, the whole apartment will become less cluttered - which it’s been feeling a little, lately. So I think I’ll tackle this project soon. I may even start packing up the Cutty Sark later today.

Sigh. It’s a shame. This is the *second* time I’ve started building the very same model and have ended up abandoning it halfway through. In fact, I’m quitting at roughly the same point of construction too - while working on the foremast and rigging. But it’s just not for me. Last time, in 1998 or so, my break from the ship was more drastic. I had to move apartments at one point and, faced with the impossible notion of packing up and moving a delicate ship model with my very limited means, I simply drew a sharp breath, picked it up, walked downstairs and heaved the whole thing into a dumpster - then turned and walked away without looking back. I hope not to have to repeat that performance this time around. Actually, the ship is so pretty, even in its half-completed state, that I might buy a shelf anyway and put it on display as is. It really should be seen. It’s got such gorgeous lines.

As to the submarine model ... what to do? What to do? The Cutty Sark and the submarine model are both part of what I now see as a kind of creative cul-de-sac, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was searching for something to replace acting after moving to Minnesota, and for a while there building ship models seemed the way to go. But (as I’ve explained elsewhere) the finicky fineness of the work combined with the long, long delay from starting a project to finishing it simply isn’t for me. Or at least, not right now. And with the Cutty Sark, there’s no question I’ll keep all the kit materials, since it’s a half-finished project. But what do I do with the completely untouched, pristine U-boat model that has lain at the foot of my bed now for slightly more than a year? Does anyone reading this blog remember how much that thing cost me? $1,400. This is no Aurora 12-part plastic model kit we’re talking about here. It’s a motion-picture-quality 1/32 scale model from OTW Designs in England with hundreds of steel and brass parts, and a hull made of fiberglass. It’s seven feet long, for heaven’s sakes. And it’s one of the most beautiful unbuilt model kits I’ve ever seen.

Should I sell it? If I’m packing up the Cutty Sark, maybe the U-boat should go too? I don’t know. I’m tempted to keep it, thinking I may work on it someday. But what am I, nuts? Well, here’s what I’m thinking: a sailing ship with rigging and ratlines and sails is, really, a completely different kind of model-building from constructing modern ships. In the not-too-distant past I’ve had no trouble completing modern ship models (Titanic and Bismarck) with their relatively simple masts and stays. But what brought me to a screeching halt after working happily on the Cutty Sark for over a year, contentedly making and painting deck buildings and winches and other whatnot, was the masts and sails and rigging. One day ... after weeks spent erecting the first mast (the foremast) and putting in the standing rigging and hand-making the ratlines (shrouds) and finally getting a sail that looked right after a dozen tries ... I took the struggle I was having and multiplied it in my head by the remaining number of remaining masts, spars and sails on the ship ... and I simply gave up. I couldn’t face it anymore. It was just too, too much. This was supposed to be a pleasure and a hobby! But all I could see ahead was weeks and months of finicky labor of the kind I simply do not have much tolerance for.

So working on the U-boat would be nothing like trying to finish the Cutty Sark. But still ... is that something I really care to do with my time anymore? I could put that OTW kit on sale on eBay (or in the Subcommittee Report, a magazine for sub model enthusiasts) for $1,200 or so tomorrow and probably have a buyer within a week. That’s a lot of cash that I could use to fix the car. Or to get a new lens. Or something else altogether - maybe some new socks, for instance (I’ve been throwing away my current crop of socks at the behest of a pretty girl I know who is deeply unimpressed by the number of holes in them - I have no character whatsoever, I’ll do anything for beauty). Why hang onto this kit any longer? It wouldn’t take that much to put packing material back in the box, tape it back up, re-address it, and then haul it off to the Post Office to send it to some buyer. And $1,200 bucks? Hmmm. That really does bear thinking about.

Well ... it seems like it’s the end of an era. But why is that sad? The new era of photography I’ve entered is so rewarding and wonderful!

* * *

Last bit of news for today.

My music is now the official soundtrack to a website! One of my friends from Flickr, who goes by the name of Wild Curl, has started her own photography website and she’s using some of my songs (from here) as the soundtrack. Go check it out if you have the time: Wild Curl Photography. It’s pretty cool.

I’m flattered and delighted. It’s really a kick to hear the music in this context. Thanks Wild Curl!