Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Grade of 'Meh+'

My day job is gone and I have not yet found the right next one. I am fortunate that I have the leisure to cherry pick what I am seeking rather than being forced to take any old job. One of the things that creates is a sense of space in time. I am not rushed each day, and I find I can allow myself to linger over things I might have glanced at during a more hectic period of my life. In a small way, I feel like it is a return to some undefined time period in which a gentleman of some leisure could invest himself in studying a painting, reading philosophy, or perhaps learning to play a new tune that has been in his head and needing to come out. I am enjoying the sensation.

Today I looked at advertisements. In particular I looked at product ads that were based on photography. I came away inspired to play, to grab a few things at hand and see what resulted. Product images are not my photographic raison d'ĂȘtre and so I had no high hopes that I would be the next wunderkind of the ad world. No, it was merely for fun and the experience of it.

FEW Gin (Faux Ad)

I used what was at hand. This bottle of FEW small batch gin seemed perfect, as it was purchased with the scant funds from a charity shoot (the agreed upon price for the shoot was about 7% of what I would otherwise have made at my lowest rate) where the fee for my services was "a bottle of gin." So armed with a prop that was already photographically sympathetic, I grabbed the next appropriate thing, a martini glass. The mums are pretty much the last thing blooming in my yard and had to stand in for the botanicals used in making gin.

Overall I give myself a grade of 'Meh+'. The background is simple, yet fun. The lighting could be a lot better but it is not terrible. I use some strange camera settings (remember that this was about play): F/22 with the shutter open for 2 seconds at ISO 100. During that extended period I manually popped a single Nikon SB-24 set at 1/16 power from camera left. I could have used a bit less power had the flash allowed it, or if my arms had been longer, could have moved it a few feet further away. I used Photoshop to crop it and warm it up a bit, and to add the text.

I will keep looking at ads, and seeing if I can learn new things. And as I type these last few words, I am sipping an icy cold martini. Ahh!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Reflection of Autumn's Fire

The leaves are mostly gone from the trees, the final push coming from a couple of hard frosts the past couple of nights. It has not been cold enough for long enough to put ice on my tiny pond, but small pots with water in them have frozen. Today is one of those windy days too, though I believe the wind map making the rounds on Facebook today did not indicate that our winds here in Wisconsin were a result of hurricane Sandy which just beat the snot out of NYC and New Jersey.

Samhain ("sow-in"), as the Pagans mark the holiday more commonly known as Halloween, is an observance of change, of the final harvest. In the Pagan calendar it marks the beginning of winter, a time generally of drawing in. It is believed that the veil between our world and the world of the departed, our friends and ancestors, is thinnest, and it is a time to reflect or commune with those who preceded us in death. The Wikipedia entry for Samhain has this to say:

Samhain is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature. Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. In much of the Gaelic world, bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them, as at Beltane. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.[2] Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a time when the 'door' to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. It has thus been likened to a festival of the dead. People also took steps to protect themselves from harmful spirits, which is thought to have led to the custom of guising. Divination was also done at Samhain.

Memories of Autumn 2 (DS3_4077)

My image today is shaped by thoughts of Samhain. The loss of the color of nature as we slide into winter, which typically means snow here, feels like an end. Yet there are still the last remnants of color to be found in a few late trees, a few hardy flowers are still blooming. It is almost like a reflection of autumn that remains. Soon we will have the gray and brown of November, and then white/gray/brown from December through March. Today I still savor the reflection of autumn's fire.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Olbrich in October

Yesterday was a beautiful and chilly day. Our string of balmy autumn days has seemingly come to an end, and yesterday marked the start of mid-October temperatures. While sunny, it was only mid-forties (F) and windy. By late afternoon my long-sleeved shirt and wool sport coat were feeling a bit inadequate. During the best part of the day, early afternoon, I went for a walk with a friend at the local Olbrich Botanical Gardens.


Part of the garden is this lovely Thai pavilion, donated to Madison by a sister city in Thailand, and assembled without nails or screws by Thai workers who were flying in to Madison to do the work on 9/11. The striking sky in this picture is partly because it was an amazing October sky, and partly the influence of a polarizing filter.


The pavilion is not large, being about the size of a small cottage, and is decorated throughout with gold gilt and mirrored glass. It really is beautiful, and a local treasure.


I do not know what these floating bits of sculpture are all about. They are new since I was last at the gardens, and if there was an explanatory sign I failed to see it. They are tethered loosely in place so the wind can move them around somewhat but they will not run ashore.

In the area? I recommend you stop in (but maybe wait until next spring...).

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

If You Meet The Buddha On The Road...

We are in the midst of an extended autumn here in Wisconsin. We had some very cold nights - freeze warnings - earlier, yet today the temperature is 75 degrees (F). I am working comfortably in a short sleeve shirt with windows wide open. I suspect I will use a motorcycle to run my errands this afternoon. One of the benefits of these temps is that we still have flowers blooming. On Sunday I took a walk over to a friend's house a few blocks away, and found much to shoot along the way.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, stone him.

The Buddha head is one of many (many!) sculptures created over the past decades by the now-deceased Syd Boyum. Boyum lived at the other end of my street and was either eccentric or crazy depending on your point of view. By all accounts he was a nice neighbor as long as you did not mind his backyard being filled to crowded with dozens of sculptural objects. After he died, the city and privately-raised funds bought and installed about a dozen of them and installed them all around this neighborhood. Boyum's son inherited the house and all the sculptures and some of them remain, visible in brief or in part to passers-by.


Flowers were mostly what was catching my eye, and I loved the shocking contrast between the flowers and the leaves. My beloved said she almost did not believe the color of the flowers was real, but the leaves color was right...


I spent some time before making each photograph looking at all angles trying to see what most intrigued me. I seemed to be drawn to strong back-lighting that day which can make for nicely dramatic images. It can also leave the foreground dark and insufficiently visible. Such was the case with this beautiful rose. The first exposure was unsatisfactory, so I exploited a wonderful feature on my camera: Scalable flash. There is a menu that lets me control the output of the on-camera flash, from full down to 1/128th power. So I took a good guess and set it at 1/4 power and popped off the photograph I wanted. The use of the flash also darkens the background so there is little clutter, just that nice, light streak coming down on to the bloom.

I see the world differently when I have my camera in hand. That is often enough to turn a simple errand into a satisfying walk.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

More Dancers, More Musing

Here is another small batch of photos from the Madison Belly Dance Alliance performance this past weekend. I guess technically it is not a "show" but rather a hafla - a party - which in this case was twisted into a spoofla with comedic pieces being displayed. The haflas here have long since ceased being actual parties which were more about dancing for each other and have morphed into true performances. I am not saying that is a bad thing, just an acknowledgment of the straying from the term. In order for any performance art to flourish in a society that is drifting as conservative as ours is requires that money must flow. It doesn't have to be a lot of money, but no artist is making enough in their day job to fund a performance, and no grant money or patron system exists to pay for renting a space. As I said earlier, it all becomes a labor of love: Performers do what they do for free because they love it. They buy their own gear and costumes because they love it. They put up money to rent a space because they love to perform (and they cross their fingers). The audience comes and donates some money because they love what the performers are trying to do. In the "business" world things are somewhat easier. As long as their is a tangible good being consumed, even if it is junk, there is cash to be had. Not so for intangible trades like a performance. We as a society do not value the effort behind intangible experiences except in a few specific cases: Football, baseball, and basketball.

Perhaps dancers should have trading cards. Get little kids hooked on the glamour early. Each card would be coated in glitter or sequins (guaranteed to be found for years later!). Can't you just see it?

Ayperi Trading Card

It is a nice fantasy, and just not likely to become reality any time soon. We value activities in which one "wins" and it is as simple as that. "Us and Them" could be as valuable a learning style as "Us versus Them" (and we would have fewer wars).

Anyway, this is a post about belly dancers and a fun show. It just never ceases to amaze me where my mind goes when I start to write one of these posts. When I sat down to do this I was thinking that I would simply pop up a few more photos and dash off a bit of text. Voila! Then I remembered that to cross-post to Facebook, their "linter" tool fails to find the correct post if there is insufficient text before any photos. I pondered simply cutting and pasting the whole "Ipso lorem..." filler text, but then let stream of consciousness have its way with me. [Shut up Nataraj, just post some pretty pics!]


Amazing makeup! This dancer did a super fun piece about the Evil Queen talking to her mirror and discovering the existence of one Snow White. As we were talking about it afterwards, our friend commented that "perhaps she has always owned the role of the Evil Queen, since childhood." We laughed and pondered the possibility and parental realization that their daughter did not identify with Snow White, but was drawn instead to the Evil Queen. We imagined that it started with the gothtuming (Goth+Costuming). She nailed this dance for sure!


There is also a tradition of male belly dance that most people are not aware of. Misha has been dancing for years and is quite good. I have not seen any of his solo work recently and in this group piece there was not a lot of room to shine, though he and sometimes dance partner Ayperi did stand out. It is clear that each of them has spent time learning how to engage the audience and emote from stage.

As I close this post, ponder that our society promotes and subsidizes many things (using tax dollars to repair and plow streets, for cars) that lead to other costs (need for parking structures and parking fees) while ignoring or disenfranchising other things (mass transit). So too do we promote professional sports (Us versus Them) by publicly funding stadiums while we overlook and even ridicule non-competitive arts programs (Us and Them). What would the world be like if we chose differently?

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

MBDA Spoofla!

Last night the Madison Belly Dance Alliance held a hafla - a belly dance party - but with a twist: The dances were spoofs, send ups of "real" dances. With the proximity to Hallowe'en, a certain element of zombie was to be expected. And zombies there were! A veritable hoard of undead dancers shimmying and losing pieces. Not every dance featured zombies. There was a pleasing variety of choices including Cleopatra (with a zombied Marc Antony), the evil queen from Snow White, and an interpretive dance from Ursula K. LeGuin's "Earthsea". I love Madison!

I had a fixed focal length lens on my camera (Nikon's sweet little 50 mm) and was confined to a single location. It is a low budget show on a low stage in a UU church with no specific lighting. To keep my shutter speed up, even at f/2.8 or 2.5, I had to use ISO 1000 or even 1250 which starts to introduce a bunch of noise. Caveats aside, I did manage to get some fun photos.


Knowing I would have noise, especially when I cropped in close, I gave up on trying to eliminate it and chose to embrace it. As is my habit with performance photos, I often alter the color palate to suit what pleases me, from over-saturated to B&W and all points in between.


I do not worry overly much about the details of technical precision when I shoot for fun. What I worry about is whether or not the photo is FUN or not. Did it capture some essence of the character? When I look at this next photograph, the first thing I think is, "I want to be whoever she is looking at!" That's when I know I captured a good image.


All in all a fun night with fun people. Madison really does have an amazing pool of talented people who want to share what they do, and often that sharing is inexpensive and a labor of love. The love shows, and that makes for a grand time. I have a couple more from the night that I want to share, but that will wait for a later post.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Finally! A Fall Color Walk

The recent plunge of temperatures here (to the upper 20's, F) prompted my beloved and I to take a fall color walk before it was too late. A couple of days ago I penned this haiku: Cold snap yesterday, Today the leaves are falling. The robins take wing. It was a clarion call to Get Out There and see the world before it becomes draped first in gray and then in white for the next five months. So after dropping off at the airport an aerial dance instructor who had been flown in to teach Cycropia (the aerial dance troupe of which I am part), we ventured to the University of Wisconsin's research forest area, the Arboretum.


While it is certainly true that we missed peak color, and many trees were already bare of leaves, there was much to relish. We took a side trail to "Teal Pond", a spot we had never visited. The above photo is from there. Just a moment earlier, before we ventured to Teal Pond, we also noted this shelter (for skiers?) which we had never encountered before. Since it is clearly not a new structure, it was just on a path we had never taken.


Leaves did not provide the only color. Not only did I see a small array of late blooming wildflowers, I saw for the first time autumn-blooming crocus. I just might need to find and plant some of those bulbs in my yard! My above haiku indicates the robins are taking wing they really are not, yet. What they are doing is eating berries. They were busy in and under all the fruit trees. This berry is one I have never seen before, and the range of colors in the bush were pretty amazing.


I am thrilled that I got my autumn walk in today. Who knows? I might even get in a fall motorcycle ride and find another sweet spot. Stay tuned... In the meantime, here are the rest of today's photos, and others from past trips to the arboretum. The first twenty are from today.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Tale of the S

There is a metal worker in town who has forged his way into our aerial dance community. Will Turnbull of 11th Hour Heroics / Paradigm Forge built a lyra (basically a steel hoop for aerial dance) for one of the students of Cycropia Aerial Dance, the troupe of which I am part. Once a bunch of us saw it, we were intrigued. He made a pitch to build more, and half a dozen people took him up on it. Not wanting to be with the "in" crowd, I talked with Will instead about building me an "S" as a replacement for an earlier attempt that was a structural failure.


He came and took a look at the existing one, and we continued the conversation via email (and ultimately Pay Pal because I was away when he needed a deposit) and we settled on size and amount of arc. You can see that this is not going to be small! Each curve of the S will be 48 inches in diameter, and the pipe will comprise 220 degrees of arc (a full circle being 360) or just under 2/3 of a full circle. Welded together in the middle, the two arcs will stand 96 inches tall, eight feet. That is about the same as the earlier version, though that one had top and bottom curves of differing size.


The shot above shows the substance of the pipe. I think the steel pipe is 1-3/4 inch OD, and it proved to be much harder to bend than anticipated. When I visited the studio Will told me that the first arc had taken forty passes through his bending machine, which is manually cranked. Worse, the shearing bolts he uses to make sure a cheap piece fails before he breaks the machine have been breaking with a frustrating frequency, and has delayed the process. I am not concerned about the timing. He will finish it soon enough.


Will is a character, and a pleasure to work with. While this particular piece is pretty industrial, he is a fine sculptural artist. While you are waiting to see images of the completed S, and better yet, see it with dancers on it in the air, check out his page (linked above).

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