Archive | October 2015

Beware the Honest Photographer …

Today, I stopped by one of the Facebook photo groups to which I belong. I stayed to enjoy some of the recent shots there. Then I came upon a beautiful photo, and the note with it said “unedited”. Someone had posted a comment to the effect that “unedited photos are best” – and I moved on. It saddens me when groups erect barriers between members. Divisiveness is heartbreaking. Right away, all the other photographers – the ones who might pop the saturation a bit, or adjust lighting, or refine sharpness, or crop their shots to remove an unattractive detail, or reduce noise in the shadows, straighten a horizon line that’s tilted, remove a stray insect that has left a spot on the sky – are dismissed as being inferior somehow. Only those who create “unedited” shots and proudly declare this fact are to be applauded? Really?! What’s wrong with this picture?

Every photo is edited. As soon as it comes out of a camera and is converted to a JPEG file for printing or sharing, it’s changed from the way the camera initially saw it. It’s compressed and there is an automatic loss of detail. For many photographers, shooting in JPEG to begin with, their cameras have already applied editing of one kind or another. We can store the original RAW shots as TIFF files to avoid detail loss (as I often do) but few sites allow TIFF uploads. They are enormous files. But there is no unprocessed, raw shot ever posted on Facebook or anywhere else online that I know of. Not ONE. Even a cellphone shot – especially a cellphone shot! – has been processed by the phone’s own program. In many cases, heavily processed.

Therefore, I’m mulling over the implications of being party to a lie. And it IS a lie, no matter the motivations. People feel pressured to make claims that are simply untrue. I find this terribly discouraging. Why not just look at an image and enjoy it for whatever reasons it’s been shared? Or pass it by and go on to another? Why judge its merits on a false premise?

I don’t mind seeing people share their camera settings by way of information. This choosing of settings, too, is an editorial process but knowing the specifics can be helpful to others who are trying for similar effects. And all cameras have settings. One can see them by viewing them in whatever photo program is being used. Time, date, shutter speed, exposure time, ISO – all are there. Very useful details they are, indeed. And then there’s Image Stabilization. It eliminates a fair bit of camera shake; some of us have none-too-steady hands. So isn’t this an artifice as well? It’s certainly a form of assistance!

Still, there’s this implicit disdain for those who avail themselves of photographic tools and refuse to state otherwise. I wish I knew why this is happening. Ansel Adams manipulated his photos, decades ago. Nobody found them lacking or unworthy of praise. Why is it that now – with the remarkable technology that has been created for our use – it’s apparently wrong to take advantage of it?

Would we want to undergo abdominal surgery by kitchen knife as opposed to laser? Or refuse to refrigerate seafood and chicken because it’s not natural? Or entirely avoid our vehicles in order to travel on foot? Or paint only with our fingers because, well, brushes are artificial? Or write a book but reject the idea of proofreading for errors? I could go on but I’m sure that’s unnecessary.

Call me confused. And somewhat downcast as well. But at least I’m upfront. I edit my shots, period. I won’t try to fudge the issue by stating otherwise.

Here, by the way, is a photo I took this morning – overcast, calm, a tad dull. It was RAW to begin with and got converted to JPEG. I’ve post-processed it, of course, to share it here. How I did that, and what I chose to adjust, I won’t divulge because it shouldn’t matter. In any art form, the means to the end makes little difference. The end ought to be all that counts.

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Looking for a Road to Follow

It’s been quite a year. And sometimes I sit and wonder which direction to take next. I’ve been mulling over the idea of not writing poetry any more; of setting aside my cameras; of moving into some new territory where I might find acceptance and peace – from myself as well as from others.

Life has become a competition: Who can write the best poem and win the top prize? Who can create the most amazing photos with the most public applause or “likes” on Facebook? Who can garner the highest level of support for his or her position/views/candidacy/social status? And increasingly, I wonder why some of us even bother to enter that gushing stream. I wonder why I, in particular, bother. It’s rocky and the water can knock us over. In the end, what’s left but to fall and get thoroughly wet?

If I define myself by “success” – whether it’s placing in a poetry competition or getting a ribbon for a photography prize or being named to some committee or other – that seems like a narrow sort of frame. Maybe it’s time to walk outside the canvas and head into unknown lands. My view is shifting. Success doesn’t mean what it once did. Maybe I’m just too old to be taken in by veneer. I want the real wood underneath, even if it’s rough and grainy.

I have many sins to count and correct – or at least to cancel somehow. Regrets. Atonement. Stubbed toes and twisted ankles. I’m not the person I was in my younger years; none of us can remain as we were. For me, this is a good thing. We can never go back again; we can change not a single blip of time past. We can only live in the moment and hope it will matter to someone.

A poem – like a photograph – is an in-the-moment sort of creation, which is probably why I’ve enjoyed writing this form or wandering around with a camera in hand. But still, I sit back and reflect on whether or not my own moments are worth recording. It seems egocentric. Writers in general are an egocentric lot, I think. We have to be in order to push out and tame those ideas and memories, like having too many babies and not quite knowing how to afford them. There’s an uneasy line between too much of self and not enough of it; between embracing the reader and retreating behind a barbed fence. More than any other genre, poetry bares us to everyone else. We pull out our still-beating hearts and lay them bloody on the ground at our feet. We’re either mad or out-of-touch or stuffily outdated. We draw in the trampling crowds and we also drive them away.

I’m a solitary soul these days. This, too, might be part of aging. Gradually, the companions of my way have fallen behind or wandered off the road and gone somewhere else. I still hear footsteps around me; I still watch tiny figures in the distance. Whether or not I join them, or they wait for me to catch up, I can’t say. Robert Frost spoke of stopping by woods on a snowy evening – alone except for his little horse – and he seemed okay with that. Some people make camp in those woods, sit in circles around cheerful fires, talk into the late hours, with mugs of hot chocolate or beer. I’m the one stopping to gaze among the trees but going no further than that.

Meanwhile, it’s cold outside and my house hasn’t yet acquired its morning coziness. I’m sitting here in stocking feet without so much as a fire in the stove. This, friends, is what being alone can do to a person. We simply forget to worry about things, even basics like striking a match or putting on slippers. And then younger folks call us senile. 

This ramble hasn’t taken me anywhere. My camera still sits at my elbow. The words still gestate in my head. A blue jay in the hedge reminds me of birds and baseball. Flight and defeat; hope and resignation. My empty coffee cup begs for attention. It’s unfilled – like me, I guess. I need to pour into it the steaming brew of bone-toasting joy. One gesture at a time, right? Then the fire, and the footwear. All is well with me; may it also be well with you.

Thanksgiving Monday

After yesterday’s wind-tousled afternoon, it’s hushed here. Gulls have assembled out on the river, perching atop the exposed rocks and drifting like ghosts in an endless stream. Perhaps some fish are returning to the sea, and these birds have come to try their luck. The eaglets are whistling in high voices, sitting on power poles where the view must be unparalleled. Trees have begun to shrug into their fall wraps – a touch of orange here, a kiss of crimson there. Clouds descend to silver the mirror, then quietly depart. The sky arches above me like an upturned cup, filled with the wine of life and celebration.

My Facebook news feed speaks of politics, prejudice, accident and evil intent. It also shares personal posts. A friend mourns the loss of his brother today. Another friend recalls her father with love and sorrow, as he’s been gone for many years. Still another battles a disease whose very name can terrify the bravest heart. My husband’s ashes rest in a plastic case, awaiting release to the air and elements. All is not “happy” here on earth. Not everyone is entirely thankful for what this day has brought to their doorsteps. I will temper my own optimism, which is seldom loud in any event, and acknowledge that for too many of us, this day is simply one more round of struggle and disappointment. It seems almost cruel to flaunt my bounty and my blessings while they have so little.

Yet I would be less than honest if I overlooked the vireo flocks trilling among the maples; my bright-eyed dog keeping watch in the yard; the sheen of water moving forever to a dance of rain and gravity. I can hardly ignore my little family, with a daughter whose strength awes me and a son-in-law whose kindness and patience are gifts to the soul – not to mention a grandson whose whole being is full of laughter and promise. I can never omit a step-granddaughter whose presence lends so much joy. They’re with me every hour, whether or not we see each other in the flesh.

And it would be a shame to dismiss my helianthus, with their gold spires that flare against impossibly blue monkshood. The former – also known as Jerusalem artichokes – are edible and nourishing at their root; the latter are toxic and would kill me if I tried to eat them. So it is, I think, with the barrage of information that runs down my pages and disappears. I have to find the nourishment – the simple, humane touches – among so many less compassionate stories. I want the sunchokes, not the poison. I want to draw down the light if I can. These brief blooms do it, with no thought but survival. With no care but to fulfill their appointed places at the time chosen just for them.

May I fill my own place as well as I can manage, and graciously accept this span that has been granted for my use. May I leave peace, birdsong and sunflowers in my wake.

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