Saturday, January 22, 2011

Every Night

Before I close my eyes, every night, Nancy reaches over and thanks me for coming back. I almost didn't make it back. (for those of you playing along with the home game, this is a reference to my nearly dying and the subsequent coma of 2009). Looking back, there was no choice. I needed to be where I was, but I couldn't stay there. No question. I can't imagine what other coma survivor's experiences have been like, but I know mine certainly surpasses my ability to put it into a tiny box on a dusty shelf somewhere. I live with it every day.

And as a result, every night, just before we say goodnight, Nancy thanks me, for coming back. For staying here.


I asked Nancy last night how you could possibly recognize someone if their face, voice and features were different? If someone occupied a different form, could they still be the same person? Are we nothing more than cute packaging for a memory of actions? Or do our actions define us? Probably more than that I would guess.

Yet, in the coma dreams, there were many instances where I was surrounded by people I know but who in the dream, did not look anything like they do on this side. Nevertheless, they played the same role, said the same words, shared the same memories. All of which makes sense... considering my subconscious had to have something to play with in the first place. But when new ideas are thrown in, new circumstances, unshared experiences, unknown pasts, all converge and create new experiences in the coma-space, it leaves me wondering how much of that impression of the person carries over into our intuitive understanding of that individual? In other words, do our experiences, day to day, basically give us enough to work from, that we sort of guess how the rest of life will pan out? Can we foresee our presumable future?

I wonder because part of me hopes so.

In the coma dreams, Nancy and I finally got to travel. To date, we really haven't travelled much. We've always either been too busy, too broke, or more often... both. In the coma, money didn't have nearly as much relevance. On the other hand, being barefoot makes you appreciate shoes and socks. Pebbles and dust make for poor bed fellows. But the upshot I found was that tears are inevitably salty and warm. I am not sure if that explains why I can cry more easily now.


Today Nancy asked me to photograph her post-new haircut. It made sense. We had the whole studio set up for some portrait work I had done back on Friday. The first few frames felt just as awkward as they always seem to. I don't know if every portrait photographer goes through this or not, but for me, the first half dozen frames or so, are just awkward. No rhythm, no rhyme... and usually no reason. So today I let it go. Popped the camera onto the tripod... stepped to the side and just started talking with Nancy. Instead of staring into the scary cyclopean eye of the camera, she could just see me. As we talked, the ideas started flowing.

We were able to joke, smile and laugh. I caught a glimpse of the sparkle in her eyes that speaks volumes of Nancy-ness. In the coma, that sparkle is how I knew who she was. The quick smile, the laugh in her eyes, and her hair... no matter the color, it always carried the smell of lavender and sunshine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Julie Crosby's Wood Fired Pottery

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

From the very first time I met Julie, I have wanted to photograph her pots. I now own a few and LOVE them! Her woodfired surfaces are phenominal. Oftentimes, woodfired pots end up with a surface like sharkskin... harsh, non-slip like sandpaper. Julie goes that extra mile and uses a superfine sandpaper to really re-finish the surface. Feels amazing!

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

Her baskets defy my expectation of what a basket in clay is supposed to be. She pushes the edge on thickness/thinness, on how many penetrations to make in the form, how to merge the organic with the mechanical... all of that creates the most wonderful tension in her work. It definitely made for a real treat this week when I had the chance to photograph some of her latest work. Can't wait to see what the next firing in the Spring holds!

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

Julie Crosby ©2009-2011, woodfired pottery

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seen Through A Sliver

It was here that the beginning and the end wrapped behind him to caress the sores on his spine. His fingernails had become misshapen bloody nubs as he tapped out the rhythms of the voices beckoning through the slit in the wall. Not as raw any longer, but calloused from years of calling out with the only voice left him.

Rolling over to find the darkest spot of blackness, off behind his head, against the far ceiling, he cries out. Wordless, the sobs are drained by the hollow maw surrounding his broken frame. As his body adjusts to the transition from body-warm stones to the new-cold pavers, he shivers and tries to bring his knees to his chest. His heat is quickly tugged from his extremities.

His eyes roll back in his head as he seeks the soft warmth of sleep. A tiny sound outside and his eyelids pull back, anticipating. With one eye fully open and focused on the floor, the other eye half-heartedly stays focused on the darkness. A knife appears through the wall and spreads buttery warmth along the cobbles. Both eyes are open now. Waiting.

First he learns that she is excited, anxious, anticipatory... though the words are stretched taffy-like through the narrow crack. He can see her move in and out of frame as the light spreads her worry on the floor beneath him. His eyes can make out her decision to bundle up today, warding off winter's cruel teeth. As her shadow peeks in and out of the glow laid like a map across his floor, he struggles to read her story.

All he knows is that every few days, usually grey days filled with rain or wet fog, she will stand outside. He knows that she is different from the other people outside because he can smell the seasons on her silhouette. Once he could even make out the chicken salad sandwich she had eaten for lunch, right down to the cucumber slices and dill. The summer-ness tiptoed around his room before being tackled against the far wall and being pummeled unconscious by the inky shadow. He listened to the wind whisper through her hair, leaving bits of leaves and the smell of snow not far off. Reaching out to the sliver of light that cut through his room, his hands ached to touch, to know.

And then she was gone.

Replaced by the form he knew too well. This one, he knew preferred throwing hot water against the wall rather than actually using it on his body to clean. The smell of wet mud and yeasty molded bread always barked a warning before his shadow crossed the frame. Once into the light, his story poured out with no hope of stemming the flow.

He could tell this man spent his days cleaning the floors, reaching into the corners behind the garbage cans in hopes of finding the makings of a quick bite. His lunchtime was taken hunched over behind the boiler in hopes no one would notice his pant legs covered in wet filth. By the time he had downed his meager lunch, his clothes would have shared the better part of the meal. Somehow, the light carried this simple letter through the wall, sharing the day's goings-on in an instant.

As the wind outside pounded against the silent stone, only the light wavered. No sounds came through the tiny slit. He knew the gale would only last till morning, and when the morning men came with their egg hair and laughing cigarettes, the storm would have passed. A new day meant that these men would trade their rippling laughter as shadows dancing across the beam of light. One's arm was much too small, though at least his shadow wasn't embarrassed. The other fellow's yellowness came through no matter what he ate. He could turn cold oatmeal into sunshine with his laughing hair.

Today they brought him delicious blackberry jam, spread warm across thick toast. The bitter dark coffee rings around the silky shadow touched the solid ice of his feet. As he reached over, into the slice of light, the wine stained shadows washed over his imagined repast, revealing only tired grooves in the stone's mortar.

Rolling over, he closed his tired eyes and searched out the songs that lulled him to sleep. By the time he reached the refrain, the sliver of light had crept from the room, leaving him.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Trying Out New Lighting Ideas

Frank Ozereko, 2008©

This is probably splitting hairs for most folks... but for me, this gives me fits at times. It is one thing to create nice even flattering light. It is another thing completely to add drama to your light while still keeping the subject well balanced. Not a simple task.

Today's subject is a face bowl from Frank Ozereko. Frank was my ceramics professor at UMASS when I was in college. He sent me these after we caught up to one another at the Craft Boston show a few years ago. I love the rich texture and character in these bowls! The best part is that there is a different face on the flip side. Once I figure out what sort of light works best for these, I am going to shoot all four faces and do a composite image. Things to come.

So, what image grabs you? Is there one that really fails to communicate?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Working With a Great Designer

Nancy and I have been going on photo-safaris together since we first got together. Most of the time we try to find someplace out of the way. Something overlooked. We both approach the scene with fresh eyes. At the end of the day we come away and we realize that we saw the same object with very different eyes. I love looking at Nancy's images after we've had a chance to digest. Today I took the leap of doing a major overhaul of the archiving workflow of our images. Nancy's images hadn't been backed up in a while, so while I was setting that up, I realized that I should make her a catalogue in Lightroom that was comprised of just her photographs.

The more I saw of her older images, the more I wanted to try bringing them back to life. For the most part, the Kodak easyshare point-n-shoot that Nancy normally uses leaves something to be desired in the final image. Thank God for Lightroom. Five minutes of post-production and the images look like plump currants after soaking up the brandy. Nancy said that they now look like they felt when she shot them. High praise!

As I finished working on this set of images, my first instinct is to compile them in preparation for a book. I think Nancy's work is certainly deserving of a nice hard-cover presentation. Now the question becomes "who'll produce this book?" Asuka? Lulu? Blurb? AdoramaPix?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shoot the Glass

My apologies to Alan Rickman in Die Hard, but I had to do it.

Hans Gruber: [during a shootout with McClane, who is barefoot] Karl, schieƟ dem Fenster
Hans Gruber: .
[Karl gives Hans a puzzled look. Exasperated, Hans repeats it in English]
Hans Gruber: SHOOT the GLASS!

Thoughts from the day:

  • Photographing glass objects is not simple.
  • I don't think there is a single right way to shoot glass (or metallic jewelry either).
  • From what I can tell, photographing glass objects is sort of like anti-Rogaine. You will definitely pull out all your hair as you chase down specular highlights and spots of glare.
  • Everyone has their particular idea of what glass should look like.
  • Everyone loves glass.
  • Except photographers, who only moan and complain when they have to photograph glass.
  • I think I like this challenge.

Reds! Copper REDS!

I think photographing bright shiny red glazes are probably right up there as being one of the hardest things to photograph. I have tried everything from matting spray to using gobos... and nothing ever completely cuts the glare. My frustration right now is that the backdrop paper I am using (even though it is obviously grey) reflects just enough light back into the sides of the bowls as to create washed out side-glare. Ugh! I want sharp crisp outlines! Today's goal is to try to figure out a way to keep that light from bouncing back up around the bowl.

Monday, January 10, 2011

More Time Shooting in the Studio Tonight

Can't remember who made this at Alfred, ca 1995

I like it when the weekend ends and I feel like I have actually accomplished something. For much of the past week, I have had my head in my hands, trying to deal with this massive headcold. Nothing knocks me down worse than a simple cold. Straight from a sore throat to a sinus infection, skipping all the fun steps along the way! Now, I'm on the mend and can finally tilt my head down from the horizontal plane again without fear of passing out.

I can't get over the amount of color this copper
saturated glaze created during the salt firing!

Tonight when we got home from dinner at a friend's house, I had just enough energy to get myself back into the studio for some more work on our pottery collection. This "teaching collection" has been such fun to uncover. At some point it might make sense to turn some of it into a book format.. who knows?

Mark Lambert, woodfired paddle bottle, USU, 1999

Teabowl of mine from USU, 1999

This is one of the teabowls I made during the last year I was in grad school. Most of my time was spent making those monstrous platters with the rich deep bizarre glazes, but I still found time to make a handful of functional pots. Everything was thrown with a nice white stoneware clay, fired to cone 10 in gas reduction. Simple saturated slips under a white fake ash, high calcium glaze. I have had a few folks ask why if the fake ash glaze is white, why does it show up as tan or off-white. There is an overlap at the rim with the tenmoku, and the iron from that gets pulled into the high calcium glaze's rivulets. Keeps the glaze from looking anemic.

Cut and reshaped teabowl from NYSCC at Alfred, 1995

Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Portraits in the New Year

This year started off with a portrait shoot at Upper Treman State Park. Lovely warm (for January) weather made it much more hospitable. Last year, Stephanie and I did a portrait session further up the gorge in November and I was sure I would end up with frostbite on my fingers and toes. So, yesterday was a nice change from what we normally would expect from January weather.

These images of Lydia were shot as potential images for her website and blog. One of the major obstacles of shooting outdoors in the fall/winter/spring in this area is the lack of light. We started shooting at 3pm, and within 20 minutes most of the light was gone.

To get around the falling light, I employed the new SB-700 speedlight. I was expecting it to be a fickle bugger, but it turned out to be considerably more reliable than my SB-600s. Now I need to save up for a SB-900! Oh, and more light modifiers!

Santa brought me a Nikon SB-700 for Christmas this year. At first my expectation was that this flash would behave just like my SB-600s that I have been using for the past year. Nope. This is such a MUCH better design. I love how the head rotates in both directions! I only wish the sensor was just a touch more sensitive. As it is, it is considerably more sensitive than the SB-600. My biggest hurdle at the moment is trying to figure out a better remote trigger than the Nikon infra-red system. It seems to have a really hard time seeing through the Lastolite EZbox when I am out on location. I've changed the orientation of the head relative to the strobe output, but the softbox still obscures part of the reception I think. Suggestions? I know I should throw my lot in with PocketWizards, and I probably will,... but anything cheaper in the meanwhile would be appreciated.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Some Pots of Mine From My Grad School Days

I know, I haven't been shooting much outside of the studio. Blame me being sick since the holidays. Blame it being cold outside. Who knows? Maybe I just feel like I really need to work on my technique behind the camera so it becomes more automatic when working with clients... who knows? For now, I am happy working indoors, with the heat turned up, and the pots from our collection just keep on coming!

The first piece here is my first attempt at a narrow teabowl, made when I first arrived at Utah State. Neil Estrick had built a tiny salt kiln to play fire in. Having never fired with salt, I was jazzed to see how the salt attacked the surface and changed my normally black tenmoku to more of a golden molasses color. Strange thing was... I only made pots in this style for about two months and never went back.

These last two bowls (three images) were made in the final months of my time at USU. I had finished my thesis exhibition (and all the insane drama that ensued), and had some time on my hand before having to leave UT behind. I had been toying with the idea of colored slips, loaded with stains and fluxed a little more than most potters would flux a slip (closer to a glaze to begin with), and then overlaid that with a rich "white" fake ash, high calcium glaze. I love the way it pulls at the colored slips and how the color modulates and collects in odd rivulets. I feel like this body of work was just beginning during this time. One of those periods I wouldn't mind going back to and working through some more!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pots from Julie Crosby & Renata Wadsworth

Renata Wadsworth, vase with white glaze and Oribe, 2010©

Julie Crosby, shot glass with white glaze, 2009 ©

This holiday season I spent a big chunk of time indoors, trying to get over one cold after another. After a year of being illness free, this was quite a surprise. Guess what the New Year gave me? Another head cold. Ugh. So today, when I wanted to be outside enjoying the faux-Spring air, I was instead inside, nursing my raw nose and my aching throat. Every cough made my belly spasm, which as you can guess, is dangerous given how bad the hernias already are at this point.

With arms wrapped around myself, and hoping not to bust a gut... I tried putting more pots from our collection into our new digital museum. Today's additions include a wonderful small shot glass from Julie Crosby and a wicked vase from Renata Wadsworth. It is always a challenge trying to photography white or light colored pots. Especially if there is any flare. In both cases, the white had just enough texture and contrast that I was able to get it to pop out from the background without too much effort.

Shot with a Nikon D300s, 55-200 VR f4-5.6 IF-ED lens, using Strobelite strobes. Still working on finding a better wireless setup. Ideas are welcomed!