Daunting to Doable

I spent some time recently selecting photos I’d taken over the last year to make prints from. Photography is not my business right now and I don’t have plans to make it my profession. So why spend several days analyzing and selecting and hemming and hawing over what really amounts to updating a portfolio? One of my favorite photography bloggers, and all around internet personalities, Derrick Story of thedigitalstory.com has done several podcasts, posts and even a whole lynda.com title on the subject. And he’s gotten me excited about my own archiving process. I’m so excited in fact that not only am I convinced of its intrinsic value but I’m writing this post to share my experience.I believe that this archiving or portfolio process has two primary areas of value:

  • Creative Growth
  • Security and Longevity

Creative Growth
Creating and evaluating a portfolio of my work has been an interesting exercise for its own sake already. Even though I do not and will not consider myself a professional (at least for quite some time), photography can be an expensive hobby for an enthusiast. So I’ve decided to try selling my work as fine art prints this year. And seeing which of my best shots looks good in print was, I figured a good place to start that project. And this leads me to the way time can add a certain, fresh (and perhaps more realistically critical) perspective. From time to time, looking back and examining your work, looking at the phases of your exploration whether in-camera or editing exploration, can be instructive. It can remind you of techniques you’ve enjoyed in the past but have wandered away from. I went out last week to shoot some HDRI scenes after looking over a group of pictures from last year which I really liked. Using a decent photo management application for this (like Adobe Lightroom or Bridge, or Apple’s Aperture) can make this experience a lot better and more interesting. Not only do programs like these make it easier to find your work and organize the best of the best, but they offer you a clearer vision of your past self. By using things like star ratings and the unique abilities of Lightroom and Aperture to view originals and edited versions instantly, you can start to get a feel for changes in taste as well as improvements in technique. I love star ratings and I use them every time I ingest a set of pictures. They are helpful and make it easier to cull down and view only the pictures worth working on further. But then when you come back around to archive they make a huge difference. I sat down to do this and opened Aperture to discover 8,374 photos linked to this library… daunting. But by filtering to view only images star rated 4+ I had a list of just over 100… doable. Then then as that lovely extended perspective kicks in some 4’s are promoted while 5’s are demoted and I come in at 62 shots I really like a lot. I start to get a feel for my style, which is more color-driven than I thought it was. Then its time to start deciding what to get printed, which black and white images might make nice fine art cards or which pictures I’d like to hand up around the house. Finally I’ve come down to about 21 or 22 shots and it’s time to order prints. The big news is that after doing this I felt more confident about the possibility of selling one or two of these this year.

Security and Longevity
While I do my best to maintain a fairly robust scheme securing my data against eventual hardware failures, nothing is as good in terms of longevity as a print. Kept in dark storage, (like an album or portfolio) archival inkjet prints on quality paper are often rated to last more than 100 years! And that longevity requires no upkeep, unlike digital files where drives must be spun up from time to time and optical disks can fade and start losing bits. Knowing that these expensive and sometimes mystifying pieces of equipment are prone to failure and contain many hundreds of hours of my work on fleeting and irreplaceable moments is definitely scary. The prospect of regularly checking an ever growing library of many thousands of files for degradation is daunting. Prints on the other hand do not suffer such complications (doable). Even in cases where the bits of individual files are perfectly preserved there can, years later, be problems of antiquated formats being unsupported by new software. On the other hand, so long as there is light your prints are still compatible. I haven’t invested in a portfolio book just yet, but a good one will extend the life of prints and of course has the added benefit of being a simple, portable way to show your best work.

As I said before, I’m not a professional. But photography has been a passion of mine and it feels good to know that one day my eventual grandchildren (or even great grandchildren) may get the chance to put there hands on something I invested my heart and my attention into making. When I get around to assembling a portfolio book I will probably do another post on this topic showing my final product. I will also be creating a gallery page for this site. Until then, remember its sometimes good to look back before moving forward.

If it wouldn’t Fail

I was posed a question recently, referencing a very wise and prolific blogger and software developer. This was “If you knew it wouldn’t fail, what would you do?” At first blush I felt that this was just like so many other inspirational questions or statements. But it stuck with me. We have all been inundated with questions and aphorisms of this kind by the unending stream of self-help, productivity and organization blogs. It was almost unbearable a few months ago shortly after the passing of Steve Jobs. He was a brilliant and inspiring man whose story deserves to be told. And yes I believe that his Stanford commencement address from 2005 was close to the best 12 minutes of advice ever given. But regardless of how clear it became in that time that I needed to get back to living by my truest ambitions, it just was not all that helpful. Perhaps I wasn’t in a state to be sensitive to my instincts and intuition but looking in the mirror and finding out that I was not doing the things I needed to become the person I wish to be did little to help me discover a new path. It was nice to know that even the ultimate laser-person, Steve Jobs, had to consciously remind himself to do what was really important for him. But asking myself if I would do today’s todo list if today were the last day of my life left me only with “no.” So where do we go from there?
Thankfully I stumbled onto the question of the day, “If you knew it would not fail, what would you do?” I like this question much better. As an assessment, the last day on earth question might let you know it’s time to change something, but it’s not constructive. Who begins something new on the last day of their lives? The ‘would not fail’ question, however, is more leading. It invites you not necessarily to take stock of what you love but of what you might fear but most importantly what you aren’t already doing. Another core quality of this question is that it does not guarantee glittering success. This gives it an element of reality that so many others lack. Often the biggest leap of faith in starting something new is simply the realization that you are no longer talking in hypotheticals. “Wouldn’t fail” doesn’t suggest there will be no danger, or that you will soar to the top of your field. It asks several questions really, but it starts with, What would you do happily with modest success? What might you have been avoiding? What do you relegate to fantasy status because you simply do not believe you will ever be able to work it out?

I have recently resolved to make a very strong, concerted effort to do these things. Before my foolish years quietly slip away, I plan to make good on being bold. And when I started thinking about what I would do if I knew it wouldn’t fail, I came to realize that it is strikingly similar to what I’ve started to plan. It’s easy to think of crazy bucket-listy items when answering a question like this one. For example I want to hike the Appalachian Trail end to end, but for me there is no danger in this as a potential failure. Any earnest attempt would be satisfying enough. On the other hand launching something permanent, something which will not just embody and empower my own career and artistic goals, but reach out to empower and enliven a community carries this kind of weight. It has a satisfying quality of scaring me out of my wits while continuing to excite me beyond measure. I had this feeling once before, while planning to walk from Newport News to New York City to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. That got off the ground, I did the walk, we raised some money, I felt great about it. This time I’m not talking about 4 months of planning and 16days of 24hour exhaustion, this time… It’s serious.

I have booked myself a flight for a little business trip to caucus with my partner down in southern Virginia, and I fully expect that it will be a weekend that will launch the rest of my life. Because I was able to ask this simple question I now know I’m on the right track. This project is scary, and requires some real risks, emotional, creative, most likely some financial ones as well. But we all know which of these risks are the ones that really keep us from starting things. Sure it’s scary to put money and your name on the line to start something, but what really could stop me is fear. Fear stemming from knowing almost nothing about starting a business. Worse yet would be failing to build the thing of your own vision because you couldn’t workout the parts that are your chosen craft and of course, such a thing COULD happen. Fear of failure will always be there for most of us, but it isn’t the only concern.
Beyond the fear there are more practical concerns. Simply lost time, and money. These can be emotional, but they are also simply pragmatic concerns. “If I invest my time in this venture which may fail, my returns could be less than that of investing in the less important sure thing.” And there is difficulty one faces in finding new work with a major loss on their record, financial difficulty after making an initial investment. But in spite of all of these I am fairly confident that the biggest hurdle for the majority of us, the veterans and those just starting out (like me), is the simple fear of failure, disappointment, looking foolish and green. But I have resolved to take this leap.

So, if you knew it wouldn’t fail, what would you do? Please write in comments if you’d like to share your thoughts and back-burner-ed ideas. Stay creative, stay productive, keep going.

HeartStop in Almost, Maine

I’ve had the great pleasure this weekend of seeing HeartStop Theatre’s production of Almost Maine. It was an at-times-stellar performance of a pretty little play. The thing that struck me most was that they billed as the director, “HearStop Theatre Ensemble” and yet the degree of intelligence and completeness was fantastic. It surprises me and it says a lot for the caliber of theatre artists at work here that they were, as a collective, able to give this play such a sense of unity. Especially a play like this where scenes are discrete and characters don’t carry through from one to the next. In a way it seemed more like a playwright’s exercise though one brilliantly executed. The way the play moves fluidly and playfully from weighty, realistic, painful, and challenging scenes to giddy, ecstatic, funny ones is at times clever and illustrative but at others a bit trite and obvious. More interesting is the way the play floats in a world which is not quite reality. Characters tend to deal with each other in a realistic way and in some scenes there is nothing of fantasy. But in numerous scenes there are elements of the surreal and presentational. A woman carrying her shattered broken heart with her in a brown paper bag, a frustrated lover attempting to return, (in giant red bags) all the love she was given. This is a warm and eminently enjoyable play, especially in those moments of unreality.
Now let it be known that I have long happy relationships with the founders of HeartStop Theatre. But I tend to be a tough critic, and I am happy (if a bit surprised) to report that this production is wonderful. My experience with each of the actors involved meant that I was expecting interesting characters, well rehearsed (in some cases obsessively rehearsed) business and carefully massaged moments. But what was really refreshing about seeing Almost Maine was what I alluded to earlier. In spite of having no one to name as ‘director’ in the playbill, the real standout was how well directed this play was. As I said I know all of these actors and have worked very closely (at times uncomfortably close) with three of the four. And this is a play they could easily have crashed through and ripped at its seams by taking each scene to eleven (as some undirected actors are wont to do). But they have done an excellent job of reeling in the zeal and balancing glee with heartbreak. There is an palpable intelligence about the shaping and selection of the moments of this play. It never carries itself away, and never pushes the audience out. Inviting is a good word here, one’s investment is rewarded with greater enjoyment, but the play stands on its own, it is enjoyable even for casual theatre goers. This results from the very savvy, intelligent work of well rounded theatre artists who are not only greatly talented but educated, dedicated and conscientious. This company shows a great deal of promise, and for a first foray this was beautifully done. No grand entrance, no self-congratulation, no unnecessary accoutrements, just a well rehearsed, well directed, technically simple but undeniably complete production with no wasted moves to speak of.

I’m more than a little bit excited to see what their next production will be. Not to mention I can’t wait to pick their brains about the whole process of creating a non-profit theatre and putting up it’s first production with just their skeleton crew. They only ran this show for one weekend but you can find out what they will be up to next by hitting their Facebook page and liking them.

A Poem

I will periodically be posting the text of some of my poems to this site, eventually this may become a separate Page, a sort of gallery of poems.  But for now it will be directly in line with the rest of the blog.  These really are written with the intention of speaking them instead of reading them, so feel free to read aloud, try to find the internal rhythm of this piece.
Look At You, Beautiful

I know you have trouble with nearness, I’m lonely.
but try to believe me, this isnt so easy.
And I know you’ve been wounded
but I think in the morning this all might be different.
And for once in my life I want to chance that it changes.
So lets close our eyes and pretend for a moment.
When you look at me back I hope you might trust me

I will look at you beautiful if you strip off my lonely
and we’ll play hide and seek with the people
we thought that we’d be because perhaps underneath
we’re really the children we never thought that we were

Baby I wanna try.
I wanna try to be fearless when I look at tomorrow
but have to wait for the dawn.
Light isn’t free but, Baby, isn’t it beautiful?
How it comes to those who look and who wait?
So in the dark i will look at you beautiful.

I don’t need to touch you,
so just lie there and wonder
why these tears might be forming
for a body that asks me
but never will answer.

Till my tears fill your rivers and my heat warms your valleys.
And I will search in the morning,
stripped of my lonely,
for you, fearless and near, and new as the day.
And the minute I find you I’ll tell you again,
“This isn’t so easy. But I just have to say, ‘Look at you, Beautiful’”

Frustration… And a glimmer in the distance.

Feeling unproductive over the last few days. Of course this is not particularly true, I have in fact been accomplishing a fair amount. The real trouble has been that my days are abbreviated due to rehearsals running late into the night. I am normally a morning person. Getting home from rehearsal at 11 and later has meant that I don’t get to sleep until much later still. After an active and creative pursuit I require some time to spool back down. My proclivity for the morning hours means that my mind is at its most productive and creative between 9-11am. I once encountered a scheme for tracking this using colored pencils to shade a chart of your emotional and creative reactions to different periods of the day (I highly recommend taking the time to plot your day according to these cycles). After doing this (and accidentally noticing my tendency to interrupt the rote tasks I had while working in a golf shop building clubs to jot down images and lines of poetry at this time of day) I worked to use these times of day for those things which I was most passionate about and determined to improve. Unfortunately though, my first week of the year has thus far been a bit slow. Late nights mean late mornings and no chance to take advantage of my most energized hours. And as we all know, momentum is key when it comes to this sort of thing. This seems a bit of a digression, perhaps due to my writing at 1:30 in the afternoon. In order to jump start my focus I’ve picked up and moved to a favorite pleasantly-dark and remarkably-quaint local cafe… At least I’ve started writing.
New paragraph, bucking the digression. The play I’ve been working on is a lovely, funny, sweet play with a fair degree of nuance. But the process and the production overall have been a massive disappointment. I came to this company after seeing the makeup of some interesting, and sometimes ambitious past seasons. They also have been operating for 50 or 60-odd years. But when the rehearsal period began it quickly became clear that there was to be little organization and even less professional decorum. Worse yet, each time I decided to grant the benefit of the doubt, I was proven foolish. Many theatres operate with bare bones staff and little budget, these things are excusable. But total absence of and even occaisional contempt for artistic process or exploration crosses a line of excusability. There is however a growing upshot!

There is a major project I intend to undertake. An idea which has been kicking around for some time. Something hatched between myself and one of my fellow CNU alumni who has been a confidant, an object of envy, of off-brand desire, of massive inspiration, and a recipient of my warmest affection, suffice to say she is my most important creative ally. Our project will be outlined here in this blog as it begins to take shape (indeed it is much of the reason I’ve decided to create the blog). The upshot of my current experience is that it is pushing me to define new parts of the vision for our creation. It is giving me a deeper impression of the potential of what we will do. Yes, clearly I’m mincing words and keeping things gossamer, hazy, amorphous and undefined. I am waiting for more plans to be laid before making anything public. But the way it looks now this could be a defining experiment of my artistic life for some time. And needless to say, you will get to read about it here.