Thursday, October 26, 2017

278. Photography is the art of the real

I have enjoyed photography for several years now; it’s something I do purely for leisure.

While I do enter photo contests such as the Lorain County Fair and Erie Shore Photography Club, it’s really just for fun. I appreciate the feedback and the chance to improve my skills. Honestly, I am interested in learning beyond the basics of photography but not the intricacies of professional photography. I favor taking my camera with me when I travel to get photos but do not normally engage in “photo shoots.” I take the best photo I can.

Occasionally I get a good photograph. But then, the odds are on my side — the ability to take thousands of photographs with digital cameras and get a few good ones is simple math.

I took a college course that included developing our own film a long time ago. But even with the digital camera, the more I learn about photography, the more I feel like an amateur. In this age in which almost everyone has a pretty good camera on their cell phone, good photographers are underappreciated.

People will sometimes say, “That’s a nice photo, you must have a good camera.” That’s both true and a little simplistic. Good photos by good photographers take a lot of skill and preparation. There are many factors that go into a great photo. On the other hand, the “auto mode” on cameras is pretty good and the distinction between professionals and amateurs is often subtle.

For me, there are several aspects to photography. One aspect is to preserve the moments in our lives. These are the natural photos captured in the spontaneous course of an activity. These might include birthdays or graduations. The goal is a nice photo to commemorate the event, not necessarily to get an award-winning shot.

There is also photography for documentation. If I saw the extinct Dodo bird in my backyard, I’d sure want a photo to document it. Similarly, photography can document the activities of our lives. While I would like to get the best photo ever of the Grand Canyon, my photos also serve to record my time and experience there.

But there is some controversy within photography. I learned some tips at a talk given by a professional photographer and he described the extent a photographer will go to get his or her shot. He described an advertisement he did portraying a volleyball player diving in the sand. Of course, in reality it was a model, lying on a bench (out of sight) angled into the sand and dozens of takes of someone tossing the ball to her.

Photography competitions often permit photographers to take advantage of the tools available in post-production. These tools have a wide range of detail, effects, and alternations designed to improve photos. Some are simple, such as cropping or converting a photo to black and white. Others are more complicated and dramatically alter the image. At a recent competition, there was a beautiful photo of an owl with a badly injured eye. A judge suggested that a photographer could copy the good eye and cover up the bad eye. When the images are altered to the extreme, it perhaps represents more of an image of art than a product of photography.

Similar to many perspectives in life where science and technology can modify reality, photos can be changed so much that they are no longer authentic. For me, a photograph should represent truth as the visual depiction of a place in moment and time taken to be preserved, treasured, or shared. Enhanced pictures should maintain the integrity of that being photographed. If an object or landscape is photographed, it should exist in reality. A picture of the Empire State Building should represent the truth of the building at the moment in time. When a photographer starts adding clouds and removing people, it no longer represents the reality of the moment.

If the photo is altered to the point that it is no longer represents that which it purports to have photographed, it has, in my opinion, crossed over to art — and represents how the photographer interpreted the moment and not what is inherently suggested by the photo itself. It succeeds and is appreciated as art, but the distinction should be noted.

Declan O’Neill, writing about a photographer who was stripped of his title as “Photographer of the Year,” noted the distinction: “But for the ‘purists’ his accolade would have reinforced the idea that we can alter images in the name of ‘art’ and still claim they are photographs.”

However, he also notes that “many photographers do not object to using Photoshop to enhance photographs but they do object to its use in altering photographs.” If an owl only has one eye, then he only has one eye. Life is not perfect.

I appreciate and sometimes engage in the artistic aspect of photography. It is enjoyable and gratifying to take a photo and turn it into a creative “work of art.” I am not taking a moral stance on the issue — only that is difficult to know when a photographer has crossed that line. Regardless, the photographer should be honest as to the true nature of the picture.

Monday, October 9, 2017

277. Believe it, timing is everything

My wife and I celebrated our 20-year anniversary this month. For the occasion, we decided to drive out west and see as many places as we could.

Over 16 days we drove more than 4,500 miles through the heart of the country. We drove through deserts, mountains, rolling hills and over rivers. We traveled through cities, along Old Route 66, visited small towns, even ghost towns and over areas so flat you could see for miles. We got to enjoy the diversity of topography this country offers.

The trip, however, also traveled along the country’s social and political spectrum. Our first stop was St Louis, Mo., one day after riots broke out after a white ex-police officer was acquitted for the killing of a black suspect. It was an up-close view of the racial tensions that still plague this country.

From St. Louis we headed to Oklahoma City. Along the way, friends of a friend were attacking me, calling me an idiot and other expletives (which I am now used to) because I had the audacity to suggest that terrorists come in all colors and ideologies. After he shared a video of ISIS members proclaiming their hate for America, I sent a panoramic photo I took of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, the second worst terrorist attack on this country — committed by a white supremacist. The conversation quickly went silent.

After leaving Oklahoma City we traveled to Flagstaff, Ariz., so that we could tour the Grand Canyon. Along the way we saw hundreds of wind turbines, which was encouraging. Unfortunately, we could also smell the factory farms miles before we saw them. We took a train ride from Williams, Ariz., complete with a staged train robbery, to the Grand Canyon. It was one of several national parks we visited. We also visited the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, and Aches National Park. We rode scooters through Red Rock Canyon and quickly drove through a very crowded Zion National Park.

Next was the mainstay of our vacation — Las Vegas.

We had never been to Las Vegas, and it was someplace we wanted to visit at least once. When you’re getting older, you start thinking about these things. We’re not much for gambling, though enjoy a little from time to time, but wanted to experience the environment, energy, and shows. One of the days we spent touring the Hoover Dam and enjoyed a boat ride on Lake Mead. I enjoyed Las Vegas much more than I anticipated. The hotels and resorts are gigantic and just amazing. Over the course of out vacation, we took over 5,000 photographs.

We left Las Vegas on Thursday, Sept. 28. Stephen Paddock checked in the same day. We could see Mandalay Bay from our hotel, and my newlywed niece stayed there just a week before we arrived.

Every single terrorist attack or mass shooting is both heartbreaking and infuriating. However, it does feel a little different because we were just there. The randomness of these senseless acts triggers feelings of helplessness.

As a country, maybe we are finally fed up with this. I don’t want to hear any more prayers, or cliche hashtags like #vegasstrong. Obviously, I support the communities and their way of dealing with the tragedies, but we keep allowing this to happen. I was having lunch with my mom when a politician got on television and said that we should not use this to further a political agenda. Others have said it is too soon to discuss gun control. I physically start to shake at the stupidity.

For those who were killed, it’s already too late. Preventing mass shootings or at least making them more difficult is not a political agenda, and it is hypocritical to even suggest otherwise. Had the shooter been Muslim, President Donald Trump would have been on Twitter within minutes lauding himself and promoting his Muslim bans. Fox News would have salivated at the opportunity to promote its conservative agenda. For an outstanding article on this subject, read Thomas Friedman’s, “If Only Stephen Paddock Were a Muslim.” It is a flawless examination of this hypocrisy.

Those who continue to do nothing in Congress, regardless of party and regardless of how much money he or she receives from the NRA, are, in partly responsible for each mass murder. Our founding fathers, when they wrote the Second Amendment, could not have anticipated the weaponry that exists today. Paddock had a ridiculous arsenal of weapons and nobody needs an automatic rifle or semi-automatic rifle. As the joke goes, if you need a AK-47 for hunting, then you suck as a hunter and need a new hobby. Of course, it’s not just gun control; it’s the American culture that promotes and glamorizes violence. It’s not unpatriotic to suggest that this country needs reasonable gun control.

We finished our trip driving through Colorado on Saturday night on our way back to Ohio, and just a few hours later they got 14 inches of snow, closing the road we just traveled. We had great weather, cooler than it was here in Ohio. We were lucky to have a wonderful trip and celebration of our 20-year anniversary.

It’s true, timing is everything.