4.21.2020

Today's project, continued. Cowboys. Painting. And more.

We loved the Cowboy Paintings when we moved in.
They seemed just right for a young Texan like two year old Ben.

Today's big assignment was to make an archival documentation of the "primitive" paintings that have graced our back porch for over 23 years. It was long past time to re-paint all the wood and, as we no longer have any children in the house, Belinda decided that now was the time. But before we started the painting process the big, sentimental, nostalgic softie who lives in the house insisted on creating a record of the artworks. (That would be me...). Scrapbook material. Memories.

I found myself well supervised by a lizard who seems to be one of many that has a key to the house. I find them more often that one would imagine, and in all the weirdest places. I check my hiking boots regularly before putting them on...

I used two cameras to document the painted panels you'll see in this post, along with natural light coming through two semi-diffuse, four foot by four foot skylights that help keep the porch lit up all day long. The primary camera was the little Sigma fp with the highly competent 45mm f2.8 lens (used mostly at f8 and occasionally at f16). This combo was used on a Gitzo G 2220 tripod to keep everything nice and sharp. 

The other camera was a Lumix S1R which I used to make a few wider photographs to show more of the wall and also the set up with the Sigma fp. The S1R was paired with the 24-105mm lens and was used for the photo I like most from today, which is the lizard just above...



The Gitzo G 2220 tripod has a built in "side arm" that allows for two things:
You can shoot from straight over the top of things or you can orient 
the side arm so that the tripod can be used super close to the ground.
It's absolutely as solid as a block of lead. But what did you expect from 
an "old school" metal Gitzo?

A stout Manfrotto bullhead held an Arca Swiss plate adapter
and the whole assemblage offered an infinite range of placements for the 
camera. The fp is just the right size and weight for this kind of work. 
No matter how many tripods you own you should always also have a Gitzo.

Gitzo and fp working beauty shot. 

The new color for the porch will be "Baked Clay" which is being sampled in the background.
It's too light in this shot because I increased the exposure in post to get more 
detail in the black camera body.









Belinda tired of the cowboy paintings quickly (years and years ago) but it's credit to her patience and forbearance that she allowed me to keep them around so long. Like many things in life, I will miss them. She, on the other hand, is always delighted by a fresh coat of paint. 

At least I found a good use for the cameras today.

Re-orienting your photography when it's currently impossible to do work in the style you want...


For the first month of the "stay at home" program I felt a bit powerless and lost. I couldn't justify going out on photography adventures and home seemed so (too) familiar a place in which to discover new visual delights. I almost gave up hope of being able to photograph in a style, and in a location that would inspire me. What if we were constrained to stay home for years? What then? 

But I remembered a phrase from a movie that helped give me some perspective. It was: "Wherever you go, there you are." 

If you've been grieving for your lost photography I think you can survive if you are flexible enough to try new things. 

I'm less than happy to be in one spot all day long. When the parks closed over the Easter Weekend, and the State Parks closed down "until further notice" I thought we'd be stuck in a half mile radius of our homes for a long time. Yesterday the Texas Parks authorities announced that they were selectively re-opening a number of state parks. Restrictions will be tighter. Masks must be worn. Social distancing must be observed, and only a limited number of visitors per day will be allowed in each park.

You must make reservations online, in advance. 

But for me it was like Christmas. I immediately booked a reservation for this Thursday and started planning my new side career in Fine Art Photography as a Texas Hill Country landscape photographer. 
I'm charging up batteries for the S1R and pulling out the wider lenses. I've even reacquainted myself with the high resolution mode  in the Lumix camera so I can squeeze every last nano-meter of hyper acutance out of every frame. 

Pre-Crisis I thought of myself as a photographer whose talents lay solely in portrait work. But if I'm willing to be flexible I might even enjoy taking a landscape or two. At least I can instruct my mind to enjoy the process. And the drive. And the time out in nature with Belinda.

But, after coming to this change of perception I started thinking of all the different ways I could change what I aim my cameras at and why I use them to photograph the things that I do. For example, my ideas about video have always veered toward the utilitarian. As in, how will I use this camera to shoot a corporate interview for profit? How will I use this particular camera and microphone to shoot video to help my client sell their service? Now that we can't do that work until (much) further notice I've had time to regard video in a new way. A less regimented way, and something more in line with the snapshot aesthetic with which I approach a lot of my personal photographic work. Something clicked for me when I got caught under a bridge in a driving thunder storm but also happened to have a Sigma fp hanging around my neck, under my rain jacket. It was the quick video clip of water gushing off the bridge that changed my point of view.

Now I bring the video enabled camera along with me on walks and actively look for little scenes, vignettes, that are visually interesting and have nice movement to them. They go into my file. Sometimes I shoot in a different codec and a different color "look" just to see what the resulting files will look like when I play them back on a bigger screen. 

I was coming home from a long walk yesterday when I looked up and saw thin, defined clouds rushing the through the very blue sky. In the past I would have taken a cursory photograph and then headed into the house. Yesterday I rushed to find a camera that does easy time lapse and spent awhile shooting time lapse sequences of the clouds (now) racing across the rich background. 

Essentially, where in the past I was trained to thing of everything in terms of a test or a job, now I am thinking about how much I'd like to see something rendered as a photograph or a video clip just for my own entertainment and/or pleasure.

I think the key to remaining happy and mentally well during these tough times is to create and execute personal projects. Having a series of projects at hand gives me much needed structure and keeps a camera in my hands. And sometimes the external restrictions can provide a very nice framework in which to toil but also just enough friction to make you push back at life a bit more. 

I'll never forget how bleak the 2008-2010 recession felt to me as we were living through it but, in retrospect, it was an amazingly fertile time for me as a writer and a photographer. In the space of three years I wrote five books about photography and lighting, and even finished a novel that had been languishing on the shelf (so to speak). Had the bottom not dropped out of the financial markets and caused so much chaos I would never have slowed down enough to take on, and then finish, so many alternative projects. Remembering this period gives me hope that I'll be able to find similar silver linings this time around. 

But responding in a positive way to chaos only works if you are willing to be flexible and (temporarily?) let go of the ways you've always done stuff in the past. If you are willing to try something new. A new approach. A new subject matter. A new way of sharing work. The more things you play with and the freer you are to disengage the "work/art" from the "commerce" the more opportunities open up to you. 

One of the true joys of both photography and video creation is that once you own a serviceable camera you can shoot and shoot and shoot without incurring any additional financial costs. As you get better and better you can dump the old stuff off your hard drive and try again. And again. And it's equally cost effective to share the work. 

I have a list of silly projects I've come up with. One which is so silly I probably should not even mention it here but....here goes: I've always wanted to buy some Adirondack chairs for the back yard of our home. The plastic ones in bright colors are cheery, comfortable and cheap. I bought three of them and they should come into stock at my local hardware store tomorrow. I'll pick them up curbside in compliance with all local regulations. And every day I plan to reconfigure them and prop them so that it looks like you've come across a grouping of chairs that were vacated only minutes ago. 

Maybe I'll arrange them in a vague circle and leave a couple of coffee mugs near them, along with a legal pad that seems well used, in one of the seats. The aftermath of a casual business meeting? Another set up might be as though you've come across the remnants of a twilight happy hour. One day all the chairs might be lined up facing the sun and have beach towels strewn over them as though you came across the chairs at a pool or resort. 

With each set up I'll document the feel of the scene. I may even print up my favorites as a show. It seems like a fun idea to me and, as I've written, I've always wanted a little collection of Adirondack chairs for the back yard. Having a little personal project to do with them just adds to the fun. 

Regardless of what project I choose having an assignment and long term subject matter to revisit gives me a sense of freedom and purpose that fleshes out an existence current fraught with constraints. 

We have the cameras and the time right now. Best to embark on something fun and personally compelling and not worry in the least about the idea that the photography or video has to be in the service of work/commerce. Staying busy doing things you like is the vital thing. 

I also find having a routine to be emotionally soothing. We've fallen into a comfortable routine here at H.Q.  most days. It consists of getting up by 8 a.m. Having coffee (me) and then doing Yoga for a while. Then a quick breakfast after which we put on our walking shoes and caps and head out for an hour long walk through the neighborhood (which has some amazing and daunting hills!). Back home I read all the news and look at the financial world's press. Then it's on to each of our personal projects. For Belinda now it's about painting the back porch and selecting paint colors for the living room. For me it's a mix of creative concepting for a law firm mixed with thinking about "Merlot" red Adirondack chairs and making time lapse videos of clouds. Late afternoon I do a longer solo walk around the lake and we meet back up for a glass of wine on a bench in the back yard (if the weather is not too hot) followed by dinner (we take turns planning and cooking). Then we each grab the latest novels we're reading and settle into our favorite chairs. The days race by and things are comfortable.

Today I have an assigned project. It's an assignment from Belinda. She is repainting all the wood on our screened in back porch. Before she starts she wants some good photographic documentation of the art on the low wall on the inside of the porch. There are seven or eight small paintings of different cowboys on the deep yellow boards. They were commissioned by the original owners of the house for their two year old son. About a year before we bought the house. Ben was two years old when we moved in and he loved those paintings, and the freedom and possession of that expansive porch as his "personal" toddler domain. 

Belinda wants a perfect documentation of each painted panel to preserve the memory of the way the porch was for Ben when he was growing up. It's a project and it's next on my agenda. 

I better get to it. 

But before I go, a note of optimism. I do believe that mankind will get a handle on the virus and one day it will be safe to travel again, frequent our favorite restaurants, and even do simple things like go into a store to try on shoes. I don't dwell on "when" but it comforts me to think that there will be light at the end of the tunnel and we will savor that time all the more having been though this.