Monday, November 29, 2010

Gonna Kick It Old School for a While...

Over the past week I have become obsessed with learning all I can about medium-format photography. I have grown quite disenchanted with the "art" created in this digital world. My Canon 5D Mark II sits on a shelf in my studio covered in dust. I can barely look at it without getting nauseous. This camera, and other HD cameras, are the reasons why kids just out of the film department at University of Whatever are heading out into the real world calling themselves Cinematographers and/or Photographers. An infant could take a good picture with the 5D! I like taking pictures but being able to do it without putting in the "work" just doesn't hold a lot of appeal anymore.

I cannot wait to start working with film again. Back in the day, I started learning how to get an exposure with several types of film cameras. The most satisfying was a Sears and Roebuck 16mm film camera I found at a thrift store for $17.00. Most of the footage I took was completely uninteresting but at least it looked good. My light meter worked! I finally learned how to work my light meter! Seeing film exposed at the levels you prepared for was quite a satisfying feeling.

Now that I learned how to incorporate strobes into studio and location lighting (many thanks to Melinda and Steph from Columbia College for this) I want to try my hand at syncing my ideas with 120 film, strobes, and an old has-been camera. Maybe this will also help me to slow down and be more thorough when it comes to creating art. I always tend to rush through things and that has rarely turned out well.

To this day, the best portrait I have ever done was on film. I was working as the Generator Operator on Step Up 2 and was able to sneak in an extra half hour after the rest of the crew wrapped in order to do some photos for a musician friend of mine. The Teamster said I had 30 minutes before he was driving away. I took 10 minutes to work with the Dimmer Board Operator to set the ambient light then took close to 15 minutes to set up the key light and some fill, metered everything, then spent less than five minutes shooting one roll of 35mm film. (You can tell I am a Technician by how little time I spent with the talent directing him in front of the lens.) By the way, a lot of the crew heard about what I was doing and stuck around, not to help but to watch. I felt the pressure and I was sweating...a lot.

Out of 24 pictures 3 were pretty good and one was spot on! The club setting and the talent looked amazing I just did not direct him very well. We nailed one tho! When I saw the pictures I was pretty embarrassed with the poor directing but the feeling of getting one that turned out album-cover worthy was something I never experienced with the digital format. It is time to go back to where it all started for me. I want to create on film.

My old buddy Nick Von Spaeth would be proud of me for this decision. Nick was a documentary film maker who worked on Star Wars: The Magic of Myth that was at the Air and Space Museum. He lived just outside of Oxford and always answered questions I had about filmmaking. All of our conversations took place before I even started working on films. Nick even gave me an old reel to reel editing table, but on the condition that I start working on projects shot on film. He hated seeing the rise of HD cameras. In one of our last conversations before he died he said something along the lines of: 'Your foundation must be film. Shoot on HD later when everyone else is but you have to learn how to shoot film first.' He was adamant on the verge of being angry when he said this and I always appreciated his candor with me.

Some frustrating times are a-comin'! Being precise and patient are foreign to me; however, I welcome the challenges. It would be so much easier just to smoke pot and keep shooting on the 5D, but I don't really dig the weed anymore. Shooting film will be a good hobby. Doing the research has been a lot of fun and I am really failing at being productive in the studio. Time for an affordable change of pace. Maybe I should buy 2 dinosaur cameras in case one gets thrown against the wall?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I am the worst boss I have ever had.

I need a good kick in the pants, not one that hurts but one that inspires. Sitting on the eastern edge of a Carolina mountaintop watching the sun rise out of the horizon would help. Hearing Kermit Ruffins play his horn at Vaughn's on a Thursday could be beneficial. Setting an anchor in the Dry Tortugas with Fort Jefferson in view might kickstart something in my brain. Then there is always Bermuda...Bermuda is always good for what ails you. Unfortunately, a road trip is a little out of the question right now. I am bonded to the home for a spell. At the moment, I can barely get up off the couch...

A trip to the gym is rather necessary, but after freezing my toes off in a scissor lift last night I am not much for going outside today, even if the walk is only a few blocks. Across the street from the gym is my studio. The dust is starting to gather once again.

The grocery list is sitting on the table right in front of me. I better get going before the line at the market grows to unbearable lengths. The pecan pies for the Ale House dinner are my responsibility and we are low on beer in the fridge.

I'm afraid if I go buy beer now I might have a couple. I did work last night so today could be considered a day off. How guilty would I feel if I took today off? Stuffing self-employed-vocational guilt away somewhere where I do not have to think about it is something I am very good at. Why am I worrying about all this at all? It is Thanksgiving Eve.

When it comes down to it I don't have to bake the pies until tomorrow, the gym is open tomorrow and the dogs have already been walked this morning. It might be all right to laze about today. I can go to the studio tomorrow. But I have pies to bake tomorrow...

No official call time today. It is up to me to fill today with productivity. I'll get back to you on that...  

Monday, November 22, 2010

How can this song still be on the charts?

I do not always keep a firm grasp of the English language but at least I put forth my best effort and attempt to adhere to the proper rules of usage. Frank Conroy, the former director of the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa stated that in contemporary writing all works needed to have a combination of four ingredients: meaning, sense, brevity, and clarity. Some exceptions are allowed and some rules are often broken without distraction, but there are limits. If I recall correctly, the limits especially apply when it comes to one's writing making sense. In the song "Like a G6", by the music group The Far East Movement, the envelope of the artistic license is pushed well beyond the edge of acceptability. I have a hard time grasping how the hook of the song makes any sense. However, I am obviously in the minority because the popularity of song kept it in the top ten on Itunes for quite some time. During the week of September 29, 2010, "Like a G6" even reached number one. The standards in our modern society are reaching some frightening lows.

Very few pop songs annoy me. I can keep the radio tuned to any station that plays pop music and suffer through the garbage to get to artists I can tolerate like Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, BOB, Taylor Swift (as long as she is not singing live), and even Justin Bieber. I don't necessarily like all of these artists but I can sit through one of their songs. "Like a G6" sends me into conniption fits from the first beat, then comes that annoying hook...

Poppin bottles in the ice like a blizzard
When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard

Am I wrong? With lyrics like these how can this song still be on the charts?

When I think of a blizzard I think of frozen particles hitting the earth rather hastily. I'm afraid if the Far East Movement started popping their bottles on the ice in any way nearly associated with a blizzard-type effect the glass might shatter. Their blizzard-esque intent, figuratively, might have been to mean lots of bottles hitting the ice for all in attendance at the club. Whatever the implication of the writer might be, I have a difficult time accepting it. If they had changed "like" to "it's a"I would be able to somewhat tolerate the song, until I heard the next line.

I do not think there is anything more offensive than some skinny hipster chick trying to rap/sing a new word into the English language. "Slizzard" might be the dumbest attempt in the history of the arts. Other artist have been able to do so successfully. Snoop Dogg used his charm and talent as a rapper to bring his linguistically-pleasing creations into the mainstream. Plenty of times I tried to be hip twisting my fingers into awkward positions while answering {fo' shizzle my nizzle} to many questions over the years. Snoop Dogg has a gift of making words flow together in a way that sounds pleasing. The flow is phonetically pleasing as well. Dev Tailes' abilities are not even comparable to Snoops in her contribution to "Like a G6." However, she displays a strong business sense with her contribution to the song. The young lady probably won't have to worry about paying her bills for some time.

Maybe I am just old and getting grumpier. I am getting fed up with mainstream culture (meaning what is overly popular among the masses) influencing our society in a negative way. Yes, I love to be entertained by copious amounts of less-than-cerebral material in many genres of entertainment. This weekend I watched a few minutes of VH1 hoping to catch a glimpse of Katy Perry in her video for "Teenage Dream." I love that song; I love looking at her, but after four horrendous videos and an endless amount of commercials I could not wait any longer. I switched over to Lidia's Italy so I would maybe learn how to make a new pasta dish.

What I saw on VH1 made my eyes hurt. Hearing "Like a G6" when I'm driving makes my head hurt. Time to go back to vinyl for a while. This week I am going shopping for a turntable so I can listen to music that was created with care and attention to detail. I don't know what is scarier, how old I am getting or how bad contemporary music is? I will say this: Katy Perry was robbed last night for the Artist of the Year award on that award show last night, whichever one it was...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Skyline...the view not the movie!

Last night I was driving home from work a little bit after five p.m...this is not the beginning of a horror story. For most people this might be the launch of a diatribe attacking all that is wrong with rush hour traffic. My experience was much different. Hitting Lake Shore Drive along with thousands of other people forced me to slow down and take notice of my surroundings. I also didn't mind the darkness that comes with Daylight Savings Time. All the evil forces of winter combined and turned into something wonderful.

Chicago's skyline along Lake Michigan is what made me first take notice of the city's beauty and instilled in me the desire to want to live here. A year after that initial visit, I moved to a small artist's studio in Old Town. Three years after moving here things have maybe, sort of, finally fallen into place. Last night everything felt good; it felt right. At this point in life it feels as if I am traveling the exact path that I should be.

Now back to the lights...oh those city lights. Never before has the Chicago skyline looked so brilliant. Even with asbestos dust covering my contact lenses, the city looked in panoramic HD. Maybe because it was a clear dark night on the doorstep of winter that might have added to the brilliance of the city's shine? Or maybe it was the fact that I was driving home from work as a member of I.A.T.S.E Local 476 here in Chicago? There are too many to state. A lot of ingredients combined to make the drive home so appealing. Lake Shore Drive isn't too shabby a road on which to travel homeward either.

After parking the car right in front of the apartment in the Triangle, I went and had a couple beers with Grace at the Ale House then took Eli Mongrel on a walk through the neighborhood. Eli behaved and we got to look in some windows of some really cool places. All the windows were wide open at my favorite building in the Old Town Triangle!  I have not had a day that started so well and by the end made me feel so fortunate in quite some time. Thank you, Lord, may I have another!

Over the last three years Chicago sometimes felt like home and sometimes felt like a worthy experience that demanded change. Now, it is starting to feel like home. No longer am I having to travel in order to chase paychecks to buy rice and beans. I can buy my rice and beans right down the street at Treasure Island. Coming home from work after a 20 minute drive is amazing. I haven't had such a short commute in forever and a day. Home feels good right now, even if I catch nothing but grief for putting ketchup on my hot dogs. Thank you, Chicago for your warm embrace last night.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crash Bang Boom...I have a love/hate relationship with technology.

Last week my computer went kaput...completely kaput. This was not the uh oh; this was the UH OH I am totally F$@&*D type of ordeal. I bought the G4 seventeen inch laptop back in 2003 and had all of my projects stored on it. Troubleshooting the problem with the user's guide garnered no positive results. Then there was a frantic call to Apple tech support. I was told that the only thing I could do was take the laptop into a data recovery specialist and hope for the best. The technician I spoke with on the phone said my work had a 50/50 chance of coming out alive. All I hoped to recover was the seven pages I had worked on the previous week. I have hard copies of most everything else. However, the last seven pages typed into that computer were part of a path back to consistency I had been lacking for several years.

To sum everything up - the specialists I visited were unable to retrieve any of the data on the hard drive. They said they could fix the computer but what was there, in terms of data, was gone. To say the least, I was crushed. The sense of loss was devastating. I certainly don't need to go through with that bonfire any more! Hard drives are like brakes on a car; they need to be replaced. And it is best to replace them before they go out on you driving down a steep hill!

I only lost seven pages, no big deal. So what if it was the best prose I had written since grad school and had made me excited about writing everyday again. I did not lose any legal pads or Fort Ticonderoga #2 pencils. There are still tools in the studio to create. But damn, it is so easy to make up excuses not to go to the studio right now. I could still be in recovery from the devastating loss last week, my back hurts from working 30+ hours in two days on "Shameless", I have to baby sit the Eli Mongrel who just paces around the studio, there are still a few projects to do around the new apartment, and the season finale of "Bored to Death" awaits on the DVR. But I will remain strong and focused...

Just when everything seemed like it was moving forward in a positive direction too. As much as I don't want to, I need to head over to the studio and get to work. I recall a teacher once telling me if a wall pops up that keeps you from achieving your goals, if you can't climb up and over it, go around it. Seems easy enough. It never used to work before, but that was then and this is now. Today I am going to go to the studio and re-boot myself. Tonight I want to sit on the couch and watch the Redskins game feeling satisfied after a good day's work. Time to dust off one of my typewriters!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"I love cake; cake is my favorite food." Lee Winslow

Getting back into reading books and newspapers has proven to be a worthy decision. I feel the mechanics of the mind slowly coming back to life. My mother was right – television dulls the mind. I used to think that just because I work as a technician on movies and commercials that watching television at any point in the day and for any amount of time could be categorized as research. Thinking that way made me feel better about wasting the day on the couch. On Monday, I had the day off and did not turn on the television until the football game. For the whole day I had my nose buried in a book called Tough Guy about the life of hockey great Bob Probert.

Tough Guy was the first book since Pat Conroy’s Beach Music that really struck some emotional chords. I was a huge fan of watching hockey when Probie played. He was an amazing fighter who could also score. He played hockey the old way and was even elected to an All Star game one year. Bob Probert also dealt with substance abuse. For a guy that had a whole lot going for him, Probie could not avoid the path of self-destruction. In the book I discovered that we both went to jail the same year for similar violations. However, I knew the moment I went behind bars that it was not a place to which I wanted to ever return. A lot of bad decision making immediately ceased. The case was not the same for Bob Probert.

As a huge fan of number 24 for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, I am grateful to his wife for publishing the book. Bob Probert died of a heart attack back in July. His wife wanted his story told the right way, in Bob’s words. I am truly glad that Bob’s struggles are over and he can finally be at peace.

On a happier note…I have started re-reading what I think is the best coming of age novel…ever. My apologies go out to the Salinger estate because Catcher in the Rye dropped to number two after I read The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman. What an amazing book. The way Mr. Mossman writes creates such a vivid journey for the reader. His prose triggers my own imagination. While reading the book memories from my own youthful days have returned at an almost overwhelming pace. People I had almost forgotten about were once again sitting next to me as if they were full of life. I am uncovering buried treasures! This book might be more inspiring on the second read...

My next book will have to be a new read. I feel like re-reading a favorite is cheating, but I did need a good kick-start to get in a groove. In the mornings, I no longer start my day watching the news. In the afternoons, I no longer waste hours surfing through channels to find anything tolerable. Many mornings I grab a brown Mongrel and head out the door for a quick walk. When there is free time in the afternoon, I’ll grab a Griff Mongrel and explore the new neighborhood. I love NOT wasting time with meaningless activities. I do need to get started earlier in the mornings tho. Maybe one morning I’ll try my buddy Mike Valliant’s prescription and take a Mongrel on a rise-up run before the sun comes up. However, for now, I am going to stick with baby steps.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 8 of Cohabitation...

Last night I was sitting on the couch watching Sunday Night Football and heard some singing coming from the kitchen. I turned the volume down a couple notches and realized Grace was singing "I Hate Myself for Loving You." And she didn't just sing it once. There were multiple encores. I wondered if she was aware of the fact that she was singing this song just loud enough for me to hear. Shouldn't she have been singing "I Hate Myself for Buying Two Uncontrollable Male Dogs" instead or how about "I Hate Myself for Not Buying Basil Those Skate Shoes I Promised Him"? The nerve of that girl, so lucky to be sharing space with a guy like me, to possibly be upset in any way about something I might have done but I probably didn't do!!!!

But then again, maybe I did sit in the couch a little too long yesterday. I deserved to though, at least I thought I deserved to lay around and do nothing for an extremely long period of time. Yesterday I discovered that I am a pretty good plumber. After 3.5 hours and four trips to Tipres Hardware I had all the pipes under the sink rebuilt and had almost stopped all the leaks. I deserved an NFL marathon on the couch!! Hell, I thought I deserved an all-expenses-paid vacation in Bermuda after almost fixing the kitchen sink!! Where was my victory celebration!!??

After further reflection I slowly began to understand that chores around the house, large or small, are just things one does to properly maintain a home. "Chores" was such a scary word when I was a kid. It's taken me a while to face my fear as a rookie adult. And, for the first time in my life I actually enjoy facing the challenges that arise in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. I am okay with tackling the odd jobs that come up and not having to receive a prize for everything I cross off the to-do list. Getting that slight smile accompanied with a slight jerk of a nod that says: 'it's about time' will be just fine.

I asked Grace this morning if she knew what she was singing last night. She laughed and told me that the Sunday Night Football song Faith Hill sings has the same music or something very similar and it wasn't any kind of subliminal message. So I guess we are doing pretty okay with this moving-in-together thing. The adjustments are happening at a pretty good pace. We are even managing to incorporate some fun every now and then between the chores.

The apartment is almost ready for visitors. It won't be too long until you all will have to come on and visit when you get the chance. Right now I have to go wake Grace up so she can walk the mongrels...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dang, that was a lot of dust...

Yesterday I was in my studio trying to get space and mind organized. The goal was to go through all the projects deep in hibernation on shelves and pick one to focus on for the next few weeks…but that being said in the way that it is, brings a major problem to light. I wrote – ‘focus on for the next few weeks.’ What I need to state and adhere to should read more like – I picked a project to focus on until it is completed. Now I will rephrase in order to properly summarize: yesterday I picked out a project to focus on until it is finished.

I have stated a lot of things before and failed to justify the end of said statements. On the shelves and in cabinets of my studio are way too many projects that were started but never completed. There are paintings, drawings, novels, videos, and poems underneath many thick layers of dust. The dust came from New York, Charleston, Key West, Oxford, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and Washington D.C. Not only did I lack focus in completing a project but I also lacked a focus on where I wanted to live. Now that the living situation is settled my base for excuses has weakened considerably.

Upon further inspection I know there will be plenty of those projects that can be discarded and used for kindling. At one point in time I considered starting a huge bonfire with the whole stockpile of misfit endeavors. I saw myself drinking a Budweiser as all the years of frustration went up in flames just on the edge of the Tred Avon River. Had I gone through with it I doubt I would have regretted it. (I was really close to doing this but moving everything, AGAIN, would have been too much work.)

In what I went through yesterday, I found a few things that I thought were promising and a few things that made me cringe when I reread them. And the drawings…whoa…they were bad, but all I have to do is walk through another museum of contemporary art and I will be inspired to put some medium on some other medium again!

Now I need to go get a mug of coffee and begin today’s work. I could keep writing but then I would be crossing the line into procrastination. As soon as I finish the 4th cut of the Street Jimmy documentary I am going to address that novel I started back in grad school – and I am going to focus on it until the words “The End” are typed onto the last page! Or so I say…

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Hangover Continues...

This blog is on hiatus until the recovery from the move is complete. Dealing with furniture deliveries, DIRECT TV dish placement, wild mongrels, Halloween candy, and work schedules has me a bit frazzled. I now realize why I never wanted to become an adult. Through countless plastic bags of hex screws and mounds of dog hair I can sort of see our pad coming together into a comfortable home. The future looks good; I am just ready for the future to be today.

I would like to thank the makers of Michael Collins Irish Whiskey for their support and encouragement through these frantic times. A little nip of Michael Collins, taken in moderation of course, has proven to be very soothing and beneficial. Also, it has an amazing flavor and is a perfect fall beverage. Time to go sweep a floor...