My grandson’s pre-school teacher has a “program” where the kids take home a plush “Nemo” (from the Finding Nemo fame) for the weekend. The children are supposed to integrate Nemo into their weekend then provide a written report (dictated through their parents), told from Nemo’s point-of-view, of his weekend activities. I think this is a fine idea since children at this age have difficulty thinking from the perspective of another, and turns their description into an adventurous “story” for the class. Getting them to do something they need to do to develop, and love it as they do it. Genius! One of the things that started long before we discovered Nemo is that the stories had been embellished with images, and I took this as a challenge to record fun images of Nemo’s time with our family. I could only include a few, and have included them here. I also included a few that didn’t make the final edit….
Friday night was spent relaxing at home, watching Disney movies (he would have to approve, wouldn’t he?). Saturday though was an opportunity to head over to the mall for the pre-Thanksgiving lighting of the giant Christmas tree. Nemo couldn’t miss that, plus Mason was sure he would like Red Robin fries and a ride on the children’s train.
Sunday was quite a bit different. There was a medieval SCA-type event called the “Nottingham Festival” nearby in Simi Valley, so I hoped to have “Nemo” and Mason learn about the “simple” life lived by people long ago. This sounds interesting, and easy to keep a kids attention, but that proved not to be the case. An attention-span hacked away by interactive games and frenetic modern TV shows is difficult to keep engaged. As the lady running the wheel and I tried to explain why yarn was even made, you could see the “tl;dr” scrolling across his mind, and his eyes glaze over. He posed cutely, but was not engaged.
Searching farther for something that might draw him in, I sought out the things that have always draw the attention of the children – the performers! We found this older gentleman who had a hand-made dragon that spit water, flapped his wings, and made noises (via a noise-maker hidden in the gentleman’s pipe). Mason (and Nemo) found this character (and his dragon) uproariously funny and wanted to stay and watch this until we would be ready to leave, but there was more to see.
Eventually, Nemo went back to his home at the school, accompanied by a suitably illustrated missive documenting his journey there and back again. He is welcome to visit us again if he ever pines for our kind of adventures (or the fries from Red Robin)….
If you want to see someone honestly happy, take a close look at a child. Most of them have not had the joy flattened out of their existence by expectations and are able to be absolutely happy at the drop of a hat. I took Mason to a nearby McDonalds for a quick lunch and a half an hour in the play area. He sat excitedly eating and looking forward in anticipation of getting to play. When it was time he made a bee-line toward the shoe rack (“You know, you can’t wear your shoes inside the play area Papa”), then rushed in to join the other children running through the maze.
Psychologists tell us we obsess over too many details in our lives, and it robs us of our enjoyment of the simple things in life. Over-planning and over-thinking are a big part of it, but many of us think not about the thing in front of us, but of the wonders we are missing. Perfect truly becomes the enemy of the good, or even the great. I work with Mason to help him focus on what he has instead of what he does not have. It isn’t too hard since this is his normal operating mode. As Abraham Lincoln (and Lord Byron) said “The key to happiness is wanting what you have, not in having what you want”. I am sure he is not the first to have made that observation. Focus with gratitude on what you have right now and enjoy it for what it is and you will be happier.
Some of the focus on perfection may be part of our social-media driven world. Most people on Facebook (this applies to any social network) don’t want to be a downer, so they aren’t posting the darkest parts of their lives, and hopefully not the “boring” parts. Instead, they highlight the fun part of their day or week for us to enjoy with them. That turns their posts into a string of the best moments of their lives shared with us, their friends. There are even people who will “fake” at least some of it to be more interesting or seem more “glamorous”. Some find it hard to open FB up and daily see how everyone else’s lives seem filled with fun and excitement. I know about the phenomenon and still it gnaws at me too. For those that aren’t aware, or aren’t taking it to heart, it is surely tough. There are other effects that make social networks lonely places. While the creators of the video make some big leaps, I have to agree with most of their conclusions.
A way to fight back is to live like a child. They have imaginative play, but they live actively, rather than posturing their way through life. Their pretending is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Your playmates quickly figure out who you really are, if you are someone they want to spend more time with (or less), and it is based on your behavior rather than your circumstances. Your character, rather than your wardrobe. Sadly, this actually starts to flip after a few years of school and its accompanying social pressures, so I won’t have this wonderful example in front of me that much longer.
New things can fill us with wonder or with dread. The choice is ours, and it is strictly a matter of choice. A perfect illustration is the difference between the journals of cats and dogs. The effect exists in human dynamics as well. Mason saw the foosball table and couldn’t wait to try it out. He didn’t know what it was or how it worked, but reasoned that it must be fun since it was deliberately installed in a play area. He couldn’t figure out how the ball was brought into play, but once shown that little detail, he was on his own, delightedly playing against himself for fifteen minutes straight. When some other boys arrived he eagerly invited them to join him into his new favorite activity.
The question returns to what does it take to delight you, or at least to have a very good time? Are you one of those with such sophisticated tastes that only the most perfect of events has any hope of stirring you, or are you one of those folks whose lives are filled mainly with good, happy days? I know which camp I want to be in, and I have my guide with me as much of the time as I can manage….
My wife is in the market for a small camera, something able to focus faster than her point and shoot and her super-zoom, and a bit more more capable in lower light levels. Being the photographer in the family, I offered to help her evaluate some alternatives. She flat-out hates my full frame DSLR (a Nikon D600) and refuses to consider something that big and heavy for a number of reasons, including painful carpal-tunnel issues when wielding heavy cameras. Given the limitations and wanting something with sufficient flexibility and image quality, I wanted to look at micro four thirds cameras, specifically the Olympus E-P3 and the E-PM2. It turned out that my friend and colleague from work, Ed Conde (http://plus.google.com/103269308697845842814 and http://digitalchemicals.blogspot.com/) has a E-P3 and Sigma 60mm he is interested in selling and was willing to let my wife borrow for a few days. I let her shoot with it a bit, but she wasn’t able to get a good feel for it and she asked me to try it more and fill her in. I shot some around the house, and at a dinner out, but decided to go out with Stuart (another work buddy) and Ed for a Saturday morning outing to downtown Los Angeles and Union Station on the Red Line subway.
We met in Agoura Hills at 6:00 am and car-pooled down to the Universal City station on Lankershim and bought our $5.00 all-day passes for the Los Angeles Metro system. You can also purchase a $10.00 all-weekend pass for the Metro-Link train system that runs all of the way down to Oceanside and they are good Friday evening through Sunday night at Midnight. Sort of like a $15.00 go-anywhere in the LA area pass set (also covers the buses). Very nice…. Anyway, the ride down to Union Station was nice and peaceful. We had the car nearly to ourselves until the last few stops.
Union Station is the end-of-the-line for the Red Line, so we started exploring the terminal and waiting areas as soon as we arrived. While they won’t summarily shoot you for having a tripod, they come rather quickly if you set one up in the walkways, so we worked hand-held, or braced on a convenient railing or the floor itself when needed. The picture above was done with the camera sitting on its bottom-plate right on the floor and the shutter released by hand. The low angles also caught the beautiful symmetric reflections of the huge chandeliers in the polished stone floors.
Embracing the limitations can make the outing both more fun, and get your creative juices flowing as you work around small obstacles. While I had my D600 with me, I concentrated on using the E-P3 mainly, and shot most of these with it. One thing I notices is that the RAW files are a little thinner than I am used to, and noisier by a substantial margin. Cropping into an already noisy 12MP image meant that I had to find a way to embrace the noise in the crop of my opening image, so I settled on a moody Tri-X conversion in Silver Efex Pro 2. Add a mild vignette and burnt edges with a simple border and it looks like something I might have shot in the early 1980s.
We wanted to do a bit of shooting in the area surrounding Union Station so we headed across the street to the historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles (the old Town of Los Angeles that was once only a couple of blocks). The shops were closed at this early hour, so we collected a few images of the ancient church and the original block of shops, then headed toward China Town on foot. Chinatown is always fun due to the seemingly funny juxtaposed names found on many businesses. Who wouldn’t want to buy their lotto ticket at the “Lucky Deli”? Who know the Chinese favored delicatessens? One thing I can certify was that the front of the store was full of very unfortunate ducks. The point is that there is never an excuse to come away skunked from Chinatown. Always something new and subtle to notice, a juxtaposition to be discovered…
All three of us had early afternoon commitments so we walked back to El Pueblo (with a quick stop for breakfast at Phillipe’s) and a quick run through the now-open shopping area. There is good food, remarkably color scenery, and fascinating items to be had at the market, including this gem of a shirt:
What was my decision about the camera in the end? While the form-factor was great, the older 12MP sensor on the E-P3 was too noisy for me to be happy with it across a broad enough set of situations. I loved the shots Ed’s E-M5 got under the exact same circumstances, but the $999.00 is quite a bit more than Rita wants to spend, so we are looking at the E-PM2 next. It has the same sensor as the E-M5, minus the 5-axis stabilization. I’ll let you know once I have seen that one….
Street photography is not my “thing”, but it is for several of my friends and acquaintances. They extol the virtues of capturing people in the gritty real-life circumstances of day-to-day living. I am not a lover of this art form, but thought I would give is a shot, and going downtown to watch a presentation by another noted street photographer while we were there. Richard Bram was presenting a talk on his experiences street shooting in NY and London (NY-LON) at the Hatakeyama Gallery on Hill Street, downtown LA. This happens to be adjacent to some of the best street photography areas in DTLA, so we could step outside right after the presentation and start our adventure. One of the reasons I looked forward to going was to take the Red-line Subway from North Hollywood (where there is plenty of parking) to downtown (where there often is not). This is LA, so of course there are murals:
Once you arrive downtown, there are tall buildings (not by NYC standards, but they don’t regularly get 5+ earthquakes rattling their buildings), and there is the obligatory “find and interesting reflection so you can be like Saul Leiter” experience, but then it was time to hit the road and get walking to our destination.
One thing I love about downtown LA (DTLA) is the old theaters. They are everywhere, and many have not yet been torn down. As a teenager, I worked in a century-old theater and learned to love the amazing nooks and crannies designed and built into these buildings. Their like will probably never be seen again. This is the old “Orpheum” building. The level of detail is fantastic, and this place is old enough that Judy Garland performed here years before she was in The Wizard of Oz….
I am also a fan of patterns and shapes that have pleasing repetitions in them. This view up the stacked fire escapes has a delightful effect with complexity, simplicity, repetition and slight differences to keep me interested.
The Eastern Columbia Building is one of the last surviving examples of beautiful Art Deco architecture in Los Angeles, and is an historic landmark, seen frequently in Movies and TV shows produced in LA. I just love the color and texture of the building.
It wouldn’t be a street scene in a large city without flying rats to complete the picture. They are like flying monkeys, but not as scary. I worked a low angle with a short depth-of-field to keep it artsy.
Perhaps the funniest thing I saw all afternoon was this guy walking along with his model, shooting a still every few feet. I suspect he was going to reverse the order of the images and make a time-lapse that made it look like the tripod was moving down the LA streets.
Nancy and Jerry were my shooting companions. Here they are trying to find a way to move unseen down the alley to capture a shot of a restaurant staff eating in the alley before the dinner rush starts.
For me, I just used a longer lens….
It wouldn’t be a trip through Chinatown without a shot of some LA Chinatown landmark, like Hop Louie….
I hope you had time to get your camera out this weekend….
Finally, after 13 months (plus), I am at the end of this grand adventure. I was able to meet many of my objectives, but not all, since a change in my work dramatically affected the amount of time I had available to shoot new work. Even so, with the target rich environment I live in, combined with a “cheat” to allow me to re-finish older work that had never been done justice made it more interesting, and at least doable. I hope this 365 project provided at the very least some entertainment, and that you enjoyed the images. The effort will continue, but in a different form, and less pressed for time. I intend to work on more series work and present more formed stories. I hope you enjoy the next phase. If not, just like the surfer in this picture, live your life full, completely up to the end of the day, and enjoy….
Finished in Lightroom 4.3
This is one of my favorite images from the last few years and it gets lots of comments. It is the original that the banner at the top of this site was cropped from. My wife and I planned dinner nearby and the time was perfect to allow me to capture the sunset from the beach. This is the transition from the sunset hour into the blue hour where the sun has completely set over the horizon and the light at the horizon’s edge is fading, but the blue sky is still sunlit from below the horizon. This can be another magical time for photos. I don’t consider this sort of work to be my best genre (I think children and studio are), but who doesn’t like a beautiful sunset, and it is something to share with my land-locked family in Ohio and West Virginia. I always try to send them photos of palm trees lit up for Christmas and surfing on Christmas day….
Processed in Lightroom 4.3
There are many local spots to enjoy sunsets over the ocean, and this one is near my wife and my favorite restaurant (Joe’s Crab Shack) in Ventura. There is much to be said for having your spouse along with you on an outing like this. She sometimes gets a little tired of my obsessing over the light and “the moment”, but takes it in stride, and she loves a beautiful sunset as well. Her support is important to me, and I thank her for it. It pleases me that we can both share in our appreciation of the world’s loveliness…
Processed in Lightroom 4.3