Saturday, March 15, 2008

Software Puzzles

(Click on the thumbnail to view larger image)

This past week, I celebrated having survived our first Open House and spent some time exploring the possibilities of laying out the photo book in my creaky old Pagemaker. I have an early version of InDesign, but just never could get anywhere with it—not that I had ever become a power user of Pagemaker. To complicate matters, I have seldom opened that program during the last three or four years. Furthermore, I decided that I had better learn to compress a PDF for posting on the web—another new skill. Not surprisingly, I stumbled about quite a bit.

For some reason, I couldn’t remember how to number the blasted pages in Pagemaker and floundered around in Help before finally solving the mystery. I had only ever used Adobe Acrobat for the purpose of creating simple PDF's limited to two or three pages. Up until now, compression hadn’t been an issue. I still don’t know exactly what date I will begin my SoFoBoMo project, but these are the sort of things that I wanted to work out before April 1. I certainly won’t want to devote two out of my thirty allotted days to stumbling about in the Pagemaker and Acrobat Help sections. So far, so good. Pagemaker will never be my favorite program, but horses for courses, as the saying goes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sofobomo – The Next Chapter

(Click on the thumbnail to view larger image)

Tuesday I was so relieved to have settled on a theme for my SoFoBoMo project that I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough. For most of that day, I shot as though my hair was on fire. Yesterday, I was exhausted from the adrenalin high and only experimented a bit with a different lens. I have spent much of today agonizing over a book cover. Of course all this activity, is the result of my struggle to refine both my theme and my plan for execution.

I have these recurring visions of someone viewing my book and asking, “Why did you make this book? What is it about.” “Because a bunch of other people signed up for a a challenge and I thought I would give it a go” isn’t an acceptable answer. That’s what has had me stewing. Okay, I’m making a photo book. What is it about? Will I produce a collection of thirty-five mediocre images that collectively scream—these photographs were taken for no other reason than to get to the magic number of thirty-five. For at least a week, I felt the title of my book should be “Sharp Images of Fuzzy Concepts”, because I was haunted by the famous Ansel Adams quote. Can I clearly define what this book is about—why it should be made? Am I clear enough about what I want to say? And, just as importantly, can I say it well?

While Paul Butzi has laid claim to “the stupidest idea ever beheld”, I may have to challenge him on that when all is said and done. After much agonizing, I have committed to a theme that has some emotional heat for me; now, I wonder whether I can come close to making pictures that will convey some of the very feelings that have produced the heat. My subject is saying goodbye to a place that has been my home for twenty years. I will make my thirty-five pictures within a radius of about five miles of our home here in the San Fernando Valley in California. This is the very small world where I spend most of my time—our house, the yard, the barn area where the horses are stabled a couple of miles away, and an area along the Little Tujunga Wash, between the stable and our house. So, I finally know what I want to photograph and why. Now, comes the issue of successful execution. Can I bring a viewer into my simple little universe—the places where I spend, by far, most of my time—and put across some of the feelings of melancholy I am already experiencing at the prospect of leaving it behind? Or, will the passion be strong, yet the craft weak?

I confess that I had not wanted to immerse myself in these feelings about another ending. But, here I am plunging into the abyss. There is no easy way out of this. The feelings will supply the energy and inform the work. To deny the feelings is to turn off the energy supply. Best to not snuff out the flame. Predictably, I will waste some time trying to worm my way out of the pain that goes with the experience and rely on the “understanding” of purpose to get the job done. Nope. It doesn’t work that way. Red Smith’s observation on the ease of writing included in William Bronaugh’s book, “Just Open a Vein” says it all. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” If we set out to create—regardless of the medium—there is no getting around the struggle. What SoFoBoMo amounts to is that a whole gang of us have elected to—if I may paraphrase Red Smith—pick up a camera and open a vein. I suppose the only sensible course is to take comfort in the observation made by more than one participant that it won't last forever. They are right, of course. A month will fly by. No, wait. That last part isn't comforting, at all.

The Gate Dilemma

After we get moved to Bear Valley Springs and settled in—I figure that will happen sometime around 2012 judging by our current pace—one of my projects is working out what type of gate we can put up at our drive. Then, naturally, the gate will have to have a sign with a name on it. I am big on naming things. Since I was a little girl, one of my primary preoccupations was naming things I had, and I even devoted a great deal of time to naming things I didn’t have, but fantasized about having someday. At one point, I named an entire stable of stunning Arabian horses I just knew I would have when I was all grown up. I winced when others in my family named a pet. One of our dogs was named Skippy and that was a serious affront to my delicate young sensibilities. I adored that dog, but always lamented the fact that such a superior creature should be saddled with a name so pedestrian.

Indeed, decades ago, when I was first getting to know the man who became The Husband, I was shaken to learn that, when he was young, his family had three dogs in a row named George. Now you need to know that this was a gorgeous, sexy, gentle man and I knew I was falling hard. Still, how could I link my life to a man who came from such stock? Was there no one in his family with the imagination to come up with another name? Why did no one intervene? Yes, there had been some embarrassingly uninspired names given to animals by my family. But, at least the insult had not been mindlessly repeated! Sure, the man came from a good New England family and his father was a prominent Boston surgeon. But, please. George?! And, three times in a row! It was a hurdle for me. Until I met them all, of course and found they were absolutely wonderful—the family that is. (By the way, The Husband most often leaves naming chores to me. I think it’s a wise choice. I may not be great at naming, but I care and I try, for Pete's sake.)

Anyway, about the gate. From those early years, while I was naming those Arabian steeds, I dreamed of living on a ranch, or least a horse farm. The ranch fantasy was the first choice for me, with my Texas upbringing and all. Now, finally, I will be be living on something other than a postage-sized lot, and I have to admit that I am mightily tempted to finally hang a sign with a ranch-type name. (You know something like the Rockin’ J Ranch, or the BV2 Ranch.) But, again, it’s about that Texas thing. Now, anyone who grew up in Texas ought to know that a ranch in Texas means several hundred acres—at least, preferably a few thousand. If you call your place “a ranch” and it’s less than that, you brand yourself a city slicker, or a drugstore cowboy. (In Texas, they say, you are the type who is "all hat and no cattle".)

Well, I have lived with the hat and without the cattle all my life and while there still are no cattle in my future, at least I will not be living in a big city, and I will have a view of a barn (eventually) and horses in the pasture. Besides, I do live in California now, and in California—especially anywhere near Tinsel Town—you will see signs for the “whatever ranch” on properties that are half an acre at best. But, I know better! For me, there is no excuse. I suppose it comes down to whether or not I have been Californified enough to risk humiliation in front of any red-blooded Texan and put a name on the gate that says "ranch", thus feeding my childhood fantasy.

I have a feeling this major life issue will take some deep study and genuine soul-searching. Whew! It’s a good thing I don’t have to make a decision immediately.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lessons, Angels, and Sandbars

(Click on the thumbnail to view larger image)

For several days, I felt that if Paul Butzi was “becalmed”, I had run my vessel aground. I couldn’t have been more stuck. I vacillated between panic and despondency over my lack of a theme for the SoFoBoMo project. For a few hours, I was comforted by having reading Paul’s post, “Art, Scope, and Comparisons”. His thoughtful essay reminded me to stop comparing myself to others and simply make the most of my own talents—regardless of how meager they may be. Within a day, I had lost the thread of that thought and sunk back into despair. Over the past few weeks, I had come up with a few vague ideas and briefly committed to a couple of them, but nothing motivated me for more than a day or two. I beat myself up because everyone else seemed to have the question settled. Everyone else was busy planning and adding new skills so they could more fully realize their project. They all seemed to be sailing along compared to where I was.

Mark Hobson dropped by my blog and left a bombshell of an idea. He suggested that moving should be my theme. I was horrified and told him so. Dwell on this miserable experience? Are you crazy? Not a chance. I put that idea out of my mind. Yechh. Goodbye and good riddance. Yesterday, I was certain there was absolutely nothing worthwhile I was capable of photographing with my limited skills, and that I was bound to humiliate myself with my puny effort. This morning, I read Paul Lester’s post referencing my frequent use of Photoshop to work through rough emotional patches. His calm and focus served to highlight my own confusion. Furthermore, he mentioned that sometimes he “shoots” his way through a problem. And then, this morning, I read Doug Stockdale’s post describing the change that his job has dictated for his plans. Doug sounded unflustered in spite of the fact that his work had forced him to abandon his chosen theme—it appeared that he simply embraced the altered plan and found the positive aspects of it.

Perhaps it was the intense embarrassment I experienced when reading Doug’s post that finally shook things loose for me. While he had accepted the facts of his situation and moved on, I had been in a constant “tizzy”—entirely of my own making. Within hours, I felt the shift beginning and I had my theme. Finally, I was once again looking forward to this insane thirty day challenge.

Your mother was right. It pays to “hang out” with the right kind of people. All those posts I read sat brewing in my subconscious, and finally I was shifting off that sandbar. Mark was right. It revolves around the move. Paul B was right. I was paying to much attention to how clever and talented everyone else is. Paul L was right: shoot your way through it. Doug was right. Put your head down, tack, and stay with it.

April 1, I'm ready.