Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Solstice Preparations

Happy holidays! Around here we celebrate the winter solstice, the time of the longest night and the promise of the returning sun. It is one of the holidays that Christmas was designed to supersede (since the historical Christ was actually born in May or June according to historians) along with Saturnalia and Hogmanay and likely others. And the "bring a tree inside and decorate it" tradition has its roots in European Pagan tradition associated with the solstice. Thus, we have a tree inside and we decorate it.

The above photo was last night and we were just starting with the little tree. It is a 6 foot tall Frasier fir and was rescued from the saddest, tiny lot at a large hardware store. An added bonus was that it fit entirely inside the Honda Fit and a tarp under it kept the car clean. Late this morning we got around to decorating it more thoroughly.

Our house is pretty small - roughly half the average house size here in the United States - so a small tree is scaled appropriately. We are also quite fortunate in that our cat, Nala, has pretty much no interest in the tree. She notices it and sniffs it, but has no interest in climbing it or (so far) otherwise batting at ornaments. I suppose that could change if she got bored enough. We ran into a bit of a dilemma when we pondered what to put on top of the tree. We do not have a star and an angel is out of the question, so...what? In a flash of inspiration, I remembered my "wire guy", the graduation trophy given to all new members of the aerial dance company I am part of. It has been hanging around since 2006, always near my field of view as I sit at my computer. Why not repurpose it? And the tree has a long, long top branch, and I am a pole dancer, so...

Yep, that fits this house! As I type this Reena is still sifting through the individually wrapped ornaments making sure we did not fail to put up a really cool one, and Pandora is supplying music under the heading of "winter solstice" (which is apparently a pretty broad category to them, but there has been a lot of Pogues so all is well). In addition I have started cold-brewing a batch of coffee for homemade coffee liqueur, and am having a good time dredging through my memory (and my big sister's too) to recall an old family recipe for dinner tonight.

May the joy of the various holidays that remain in the year be yours in abundance.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Fixing" a photo with a free app

I don't spend a lot of time using Photoshop for "effects". I mainly use it to correct minor tweaks to brightness and levels, cropping, and the odd pimple or two. I spend my effort on getting it right before I take the photo. Other than that? Not so much. But the kids these days are obsessed with Instagram, Hipstamatic, and the like, because a crappy cell phone photo is always better when the warts are obscured, right? [Insert visual of Yours Truly yelling at an empty chair, or telling passers-by to get off my lawn.] Anyway, I don't use my phone for photos because it is a crappy camera and I have a good camera. But I know a technology speed bump when I see one, so I thought it would be well for me to spend a little time playing with a free app to "fix" my photos.

I revisited one of my all-time favorite portraits using Snapfish, a free Android app for my tablet. It has all sorts of ways to take a good photo and add clutter and noise and bad color and random light leaks (because $10 Diana cameras are hip(ster)).

OK, all snark aside, I parked my butt in a coffee shop with my tablet and four or five of my favorite photos. Alas, they are mostly nudes of people who really should not have nudes of them floating around on the Interwebs, so you do not get to see them. I ran each through Snapfish to see what I could do with them, and to see if there really was any artistic merit to it. I wanted to create a faux vintage effect with either B&W or sepia tones, some film grain, a bit of softness (Vaseline on the lens?) and a bit of telephoto vignetting. Here is the result (the original is linked above).

What do I like about it? The blackness of the water and the soft blurring of the reflection I like a lot. The blown-out skin tones reduces the tan lines and sunburn a bit, so the viewer might not even notice it in a casual viewing. The detail in the hair was brought out nicely.

Things I don't like - but are choices I made, so they're my fault - is that the grain is heavy handed. The brightness is pushed to far, and I'll call that a consequence of my tablet having the brightness dimmed versus my Mac's screen. The faux sloppy print at the edges and light leak is...amateur. No one worth his salt would print that sloppy. Hell, I only darkroom printed twenty or thirty (B&W) images in my lifetime and none of them were that sloppy. One such print did have that much grain, though it was a very deliberate choice to have it. I was being an artistic twenty year old with a 35mm, and in retrospect, it reminds me of the opening sequence of the recent James Bond movie "Casino Royale": Harsh and gritty.

So the end result of my delightful afternoon is an image I like. If I were doing it again - within the realm of possibility - I would do some things differently. It was my first day playing with a free app after all. When all is said and done, it really is a lovely photograph.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Studio work - New Momma!

I have posted a bunch of performance photos recently, but not much of my portrait work from the eyeDance studio. Here are a pair of recent photos, a before and after of a woman pregnant and with her first beautiful baby. I really enjoy this sort of work. It is rewarding to my spirit and brings delight to the client. Win-win!

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Friday, December 6, 2013

With this knife, I dub me...presumptuous?

I ordered a fancy-schmancy new kitchen knife that arrived today. All during my 20 years of martial arts study I vowed I would have a Damascus steel* knife and never bought one. It's hard to justify $400+ for what will essentially be a wall decoration. Anyway, my fighting days are behind me, even the pretend ones, and over the last years I noticed that I was paying more attention to our kitchen knives. We have a set we got as a housewarming present in 1986, the typical block of Chicago Cutlery. Serviceable, but no one's idea of good quality. Two years ago I bought a set of two santoku-style knives, 5" and 7". While still low-end knives from Calphalon, I found they quickly became my go to choice rather than the chef or utility from the set. To make a short story long...Reena's mom gave me an early Christmas gifts of cash and she always wants to know what we did with it, so I try to use it for something special. I decided I would use it towards a Damascus steel kitchen knife.

Oy, was that ever a rabbit hole to dive down.

Calphalon has a high-end line of knives, their Katana series, that featured Damascus, and surprisingly cheap; just under a hundred bucks for the 7" santoku. Surprisingly - as in wondering what's wrong with it. So I started researching, getting all fact-based instead of purely emotional (the whole impetus was emotional after all) and learned that most so-called Damascus steel kitchen knives are sort of, kind of real. Most of them are a solid steel core of proven contemporary steel (wow, are there ever a lot of steels out there for every purpose under the sun!) with some form of folded steel wrapped around it and blended in around the core. Thus the knife looks like the real McCoy, but the important part, the working part, is a single steel. OK, now I had to know why.

I turned to the artisan knife makers, the guys who work in real Damascus steel. At this point my metal lust spiked again and I pondered spending upwards of $400 on a kitchen knife. (Reel it in, big boy, you're not any kind of great chef!) It turns out that Those Who Know don't make kitchen knives out of true Damascus steels because the new metals are so much better for that purpose. The wrap-around technique is a looks good/works well balance. And then while I was looking at knife magazines and perusing online sources, I learned about a dude named Ken Onion. He is a young guy who became a notable knife maker with a lot of great ideas, and worked for/with a Japanese company called Shun on their kitchen knives. I had been looking at Shun knives and liked their style. Turns out he left Shun and opened his own design studio in Hawaii. From there, he formed a partnership with ChefWorks and found a domestic manufacturer to create a brand of knives called "Rain" (a Job Creator!). There's a promo video on the ChefWorks web page of him talking about his painstaking design work that was fun and interesting to watch - my wife liked it too because of his ergonomic study melded with his knife knowledge. The blades are distinctive in shape (read: beautiful) and etched (acid? If it said I don't remember.) with a random pattern that looks like water on the blade. It's tactile and serves the function of a Granton edge to keep food from sticking to it. I looked at all of them and settled on the 6" Utility, figuring it best suited the uses to which I was putting my santokus. I sincerely hope it is as beautiful to use as it is to look at, and may I be worthy of it. Others seem to think so as it is the Blade magazine 2013 'Kitchen Knife of the Year'. Time will tell!

Ken Onion Rain series 6

(* I feel obliged to point out that though I chose to link above to the article about Damascus being rediscovered by metallurgists at Stanford University in 1981, their claim is questionable. In the book "Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork" (Meilach, ©1977) a significant portion of the book covers Damascus steel and the exploration of it by metallurgists Jim Wallace, Daryl Meier, and Robert Griffith, the "Damascus Steel Research Team" at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Their work was well advanced and quite detailed in the specifics of the properties of the various metals as well as the techniques used to create pattern-welded steel for blades and decorative objects. It was through articles by and about Daryl Meier that I became aware of Damascus steel in the early 1980's, and my metalsmith wife was surprised that I knew of it and shared the above referenced book with me.)

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

More From Recent Gigs

I often try to keep my posts to 3-5 images. My last post hit that limit and yet I had a few more I wanted to share. We have had quite a number of corporate gigs recently, and they often generate fun and sometimes wacky photos. Her are a few more from a late summer performance in Milwaukee at the Summerfest grounds for an event called The All White Affair.

Testing the rigging before the crowd rolls in.

Since I am often the guy with the camera, I don't always get in the picture, but in this case one of the others picked up my camera and caught me in action. Getting paid to play is really good work if you can get it.


And here we are in the background over a crowd of a few thousand. Great fun!

For those who geek out on such things, this was shot at ISO 1600, f/4.0, and 1/40th second shutter. The camera was hand held.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mea Culpa and Self Indulgence

Bad blogger! I see it has been months since I posted here, and even the gentle prodding of an anonymous commenter did not spur me to action. Well please accept my humble apologies and allow me to rectify my tardiness with a most un-humble post.

As part of Cycropia Aerial Dance I have been delighted to have opportunities galore this fall to perform. I missed our big show in August as I was officiating at a friend's wedding. That was a very difficult thing for me to pass up because that show is typically the highlight of the year. The performances pictured here are from various corporate gigs we have done since late summer. We have THREE more this weekend (!) so there may be more coming soon.

Since this is primarily a photo blog, I will stop writing and let the photos speak. Thanks for stopping back.

On a pulley rig about 20 feet up in a business atrium.

Backstage. Aerial keeps the body toned!

Happy boy. Please ignore the slap-dash Photoshop blurring of the background!

Outside on the new portable rig. That is me, on the bottom.

One more on the portable rig. That is me, again on the bottom.


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