The Hummers of Summer – A Study in Black and White

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This week I was reading a blog about my camera model and the author issued a challenge. Shoot it like a Film Camera While this blog is specifically about shooting an Olympus E-M5, this entry was one that I thought made a lot of sense to almost any digital shooter. Take your state-of-the-art digital camera, strip it of its bells and whistles, limit your options, and process it all using the same settings. Don’t look at the images for 12 hours – imagine you have dropped it off for developing, just like the good old days.

I decided to shoot some hummingbirds on mine and my neighbor’s porches. No ISO adjustments, no DIS mode, no noise control. Set the aperture, focus, click. I decided that I would “process” these shots in black and white. I saw a photo of a hummingbird on Facebook yesterday (the image at the beginning of this post – from the OSU archives) shot sometime in the non-digital past in that luscious yellowish black and white. I loved that the details were so silver and pristine with no color to take away from the purity of the image. I output my images in a black and white pinhole with a light sepia. All processed exactly the same.

What follows are 30 shots from my 36 exposure “roll” of imaginary film shot over the last few days and “processed” late last night.

Some are more successful than others. I love the way that they have a more natural feel in the absence of vivid red plastic. I was happy to see more detail than I had imagined.

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It’s actually a little liberating to shoot and hope for the best. It may not be my best work, but there are some that I really like the feel of. Who knows – doing something like this – stepping away from technology, will make me a better shooter. I don’t miss the color, and that’s interesting considering my subject matter.

Give it a try – shoot it like film!

The Azure Blue Waters and White Sandy Beaches of…Indiana?

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A couple of weeks ago I had to make a business trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Airfares are crazy right now so the only economical options was for my to fly into Midway Chicago and drive the three hours to Grand Rapids. It’s an easy drive once you leave the city. At the conclusion of my meetings I headed back to Chicago for a flight the following morning. On the way I stopped at Indiana Dunes National Shoreline to pick up a passport stamp.

For you who are uninitiated the National Parks system in the US offers cancellation stamps at hundreds of locations – you stamp your “Passport” with an actual rubber stamp. The sell different types of passports and lots of stickers you can decorate up your passer with at most of these locations. I try to see if any are nearby when I travel and the Indiana Dunes is in a pretty remote location if you are making a road trip to several parks. I actually stopped by on a similar trip back in June, picked up my stamp and braved 50 mile an hour winds to look get to a spot to see the lake. Grey skies and whitecaps, but not much to see that day. Since I had the time I thought I would stop in and get a Stamp for my Sister-in-law’s mother, Kathy – she sends me tons of stamps so I thought I would return the favor, plus if she logs onto Facebook and sees that I was there and didn’t get her a stamp in a remote location, I’ll feel like a heel.

On this day the weather could not have been better. it was about 85 and sunny with just a slight breeze. I picked up a stamp and a map at the ranger station and stopped at the edge of the parking lot to see this guy perched near a stream that ran through the grounds.

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As I left the parking lot I headed down highway 12 towards the Beverly Shores Post Office to mail Kathy her stamps on postcards. The Post Office was closed for lunch so I turned towards the shore drive and came upon this beauty. It’s a functional depot for the South Shore Line. Go out the back door and press a button near the tracks and the train will stop right here for you.

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If I had known this was here I might have caught a train to Grand Rapids:)

Anyway, I dropped off my postcards and headed for the shore, expecting something akin to a large lake. When I saw the color of the water, my jaw dropped!

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This stretch of shoreline is a part of the National Parks System and has lots of shower and changing locations within walking distance. I was unfortunately in business attire with only dress shoes so I walked in as little sand as possible. Further east there were private sections of the shore (I almost typed “beach” because that’s what it felt like – a beach) that I could photograph from my rental car, since no parking was allowed.

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Beverly Shores and the surrounding area is pretty spectacular. Marshes and field grasses with a mix of wildflowers. Just stunning.

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I traveled further east to Mount Baldy. The ranger said that it was a “must-see” and said nothing else about it. Mount Baldy is an enormous moving sand dune – the park is trying desperately to stop its movement, it’s about to engulf a changing station so they have erected fences and are preventing all hiking on the face of the dune since that causes it to slide further. Imagine the height of these trees if they were not being consumed by sand.

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On my way out of the park I headed back I that spot that was all grey and whitecaps in June. The city of Gary, Indiana fills the horizon – I think this is probably a pretty attractive view of the city of smokestacks.

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Not a bad way to kill some time before heading back to Chicago.

Next time I’m packing flip-flops.

Rosie and Me

My brush with greatness at Crystal Bridges

I’m an art geek. Seeing a famous piece of art that I have admired in person is much more exciting than seeing a celebrity. I get a little giddy.

Last December I got my first chance to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – it’s located in Bentonville, Arkansas and it’s simply amazing. Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of Washington, Maxfield Parish’s Lanterns, Thomas Hart Benton, Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, Winslow Homer – and many more, so many I had admired based on a photo in a textbook or a slide on a classroom wall – here in the flesh in Arkansas. It was like a feast, wonders around every corner. I savored them all passing from gallery to gallery. And then I saw Rosie…

Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

As a child learning to draw I would study photos of Norman Rockwell’s work – noticing the play of light and shadow on his figure’s skin, marveling at his stunning photorealistic character studies, his elevation of the “everyman” to almost monumental status. Even before I understood its meaning, Rosie was my favorite. She was a strong woman who wore overalls and used power tools! As a teen I often dressed like her – overalls and buttons with penny loafers. I still have a pair of sunglasses that look like goggles. If I were invited to a costume party tomorrow I could pull off a fair Rosie.

As I began to understand her place in history I saw Rosie as someone like my grandmother who went to work during the war – she was no riveter – she was a butcher. But she went to work during the war and she was never content to sit at home as a housewife again. She did a man’s job when almost all jobs were reserved for men, and she did it as well as any man could. She was ahead of her time by more than 30 years.

Did you know that Rockwell based Rosie on the figure of the Prophet Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel? Her pose is almost identical. That’s the magic of Rockwell – this young woman shares the same grace as a prophet in one of the most famous works of art on the planet. She matters.

The Prophet Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

I was a fine art major in college. Norman Rockwell’s works were often dismissed as “illustration”. I found out about this bias out the hard way. I was assigned a project in my life drawing class – I was supposed to choose a piece of art to use as a template to dissect the human form down into spheres and cylinders – exploring the geometry of the human body. I chose Rockwell’s 100th anniversary of Baseball and was told that although the forms were a good choice, Rockwell was not considered a “real artist”. My choice cost me a passing grade on the assignment. Imagine my satisfaction at seeing Rosie in a place of honor at a leading museum of American “Art”.

My visit to Crystal Bridges occurred because my flight had been delayed. I was heading home for Christmas with my family in Las Vegas. Each year I schedule an appointment with what we call the “family tattoo artist”, Serene, while I’m home for the holidays. My plan was either to add to my half sleeve or to start a leg.

My sleeve so far:

My half-sleeve. An eclectic memorial to people who I love.

Serene is a painter. I confess that I waited a long time to get my first ink – I’m a bit of an art snob and I have seen an awful lot of bad work. Meeting Serene was key for me to get started. She’s a painter so we get each other as artists. I am a collector of her paintings as well as a walking gallery of her work. She also knows color. In the sleeve above she used no white – she created the illusion of white dogwoods by using blues and greys to lighten my own skin tone.

After seeing Rosie, my plans changed – I wanted her on my leg. I stopped by Serene’s studio to see her a day before my appointment to drop off images – she told me she needed more time and that she was really excited to do a Rockwell – especially one so symbolic as Rosie. I left her my photos and she set aside her day off to work on Rosie – she told me that this wasn’t going to be something that we would finish in a day. It was a big commitment for both of us.

When I arrived she had worked out the stencil – a note about artists – you get what you pay for. The work goes beyond the session time. She spent hours getting this ready.

Serene’s reference drawing

The stencil on my leg

This was my first “portrait” style tattoo. This is done more like a painting – shading applied like an under painting, then line used to give definition. The first session was all about laying down depth. The zones on the stencil give the artists landmarks to set in that shading.

I brought along my camera – I thought it might be a good opportunity to capture some of the color of a session.

Ink Bottles

Shading Machine

As we started laying in details I saw it all coming to life – the penny loafers are one of my favorite parts of the painting – it’s where you really see Rockwell’s skill as a painter – highlight strokes. Serene has captured this better than this photo of my puffy leg shows – these were shot right after the session, but you can get the idea.

Detail of Rosie’s Loafers

Detail of my Rosie – this is the only circumstances I could imagine having a swastika on my body – crushed underfoot by the American spirit.

At the end of the first visit this is where we were. I had never ended a session with something that seemed so unfinished – but I was excited to see it progress.

Shading laid in – a hand suspended in air.

Serene had warned me that legs heal differently than arms. At the end of the third day I was one hurting unit – but I loved what I saw healing on my leg. I was scheduled to attend a trade show in Las Vegas in February so I scheduled an appointment for the day before.

Once again I brought my camera to document the process from my unique angle.

I love how some machines have this steam punk look.

Color palette for session two

Inked Serene inking me

The details started really coming together. Laying on my side I held my camera up to see what was happening on my leg.

The details of a club sandwich

My view of the progress

Here’s where we ended up after the second session – between the two sessions we have about 12 hours in this piece.

My leg after session 2. Serene photographed this one for her book.

The detail of Rosie’s face – almost painterly

I still have a session left to add the fine detail. Buttons, stitching, highlights. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying Rosie – taking her out and about.

Rosie on the trail

Recently I took my Rosie to meet the Original.

My Rosie at THE Rosie

I know it might sound extreme to tattoo a favorite painting onto your skin. I like my ink to be meaningful personally and it is, but more importantly it is personally transformative. I have always been a bit self-conscious about my appearance, never quite comfortable in my own skin. My tattoos have become my favorite thing about my appearance. I look in the mirror and I love my skin. I have claimed it as my own after decades of not liking my freckles, my pink skin, my shape. I own it.

As Rosie approaches completion, I am beginning to think about what’s next. I’ve thought about Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Maybe a mirrored Michelangelo’s Isaiah or some of my own photography. Maybe another Rockwell….

Rockwell’s Tattoo Artist – My next tattoo?

Angry Birds

Someone recently told me that swallows are lucky. I’m not so sure about lucky, but they are short tempered.

I ran into some last week while driving through the Indiana Dunes on the way to Chicago from Grand Rapids. I was inside the National Park’s Visitor Center getting a Passport Stamp when I spotted this guy doing a bit of DYI.20120807-175751.jpg

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My Box of Ozarks Crayons

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An Ozark Spring starts with plentiful rains followed by waves of colors – vivid and saturated like a box of crayons. Forsythias, red buds, dogwoods, violets, daffodils….on and on from late March through August.

Like much of the south, the Ozarks are under pretty extreme drought conditions this year. The season started well and just stopped in mid May. Except for some roadside chicory, the color is all but gone. The field grasses are yellow, the earth is crunchy. I miss my crayons….

Fuscia
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Red
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Purple
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Yellow
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Pink
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White
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Blue
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Green
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Violet
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I know that the drought, like all things, will pass. The colors will be back.