Thursday, June 27, 2013

Caught Cheating With An Old Friend (repost from my Pottery Blog)

Back in 2002, Nancy and I took a big leap. While I was recovering from my second back surgery, brought on not by the heavy lifting issues of pottery, but rather by the stresses that came from a desk job at Cornell. Ironic. I worked in an air conditioned library, handling the operations, complaints and billing problems. It should have been a relaxing job, but not at the Hotel School at Cornell. But that is a story for another time...
I want to talk about what I did during my recuperation from my second back surgery.

The leap was to try to get our pottery studio off the ground... to get our work into galleries and to start wholesaling our pots around the northeast. In order to make that happen we visited a newly opened gallery in Watkins Glen in hopes that the owner would be willing to purchase our pots wholesale. He asked for a price list and we were incredibly unprepared. I had expected that he would want to see pots in hand, not some price list.

After getting turned down flatly, we licked our wounds and started figuring out what we would need to do to create better promotional materials for the studio. We knew we needed a price list that reflected our broad range of glazes that could be had on about sizteen different forms at the time. Unfortunately, we didn't own a digital camera so we borrowed one from the tech department at the Hotel School. It was the older brother to the camera we would end up purchasing as our first digital camera. With that little camera we set up tungsten lights, figured out a backdrop of white seamless and shot some of the absolute worst photos of pots I have ever seen. But they were ours and they started us down our current path.
The next step was buying our own camera so we wouldn't be reliant on borrowing the camera when we needed it. I did my research and settled on the Olympus C-5050z. It got better reviews than any of the new up and coming dslrs. Color fidelity was off the charts. It was a 5MP camera in a time when everyone thought 3-4MP would be plenty large enough. Who would want bigger? Memory cards were measured in 32, 64, and 128MB. Eventually we wound up buying 2  256MB cards thinking that even with a hard day shooting, we wouldn't fill the cards. Seems so quaint ten years later.

I would love to say that there was something horrible about this camera. I would love to say that it failed to create amazing images. As you can see in these images, they are fantastic. It was a workhorse. Sure, I had my gripes, but I also loved it dearly. After about three years of shooting with it, we bought a Nikon D80, thinking that the availability of a broader range of lenses would be a huge asset to my photographic skill.  

While the D80 was (and is) a fantastic camera, it has its faults too. Nikon simple fails to have the color fidelity that Olympus seems to achieve so easily. I struggled constantly with getting my sunset glaze to appear in photos the way it looked on the pots. Throughout these years, we built a couple different overhead lightboxes, using primarily tungsten "hot" lights. Around 2008 we switched to daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs that were about $40 a pop. We figured we would never need to buy a new bulb ever again. 

Throughout this entire span of about five years, these images that we took in our first few months photographing pottery as Cold Springs Studio, hold their own specifically because they were fun! One of the best things about the Olympus C-5050z was that it had an articulating LCD screen on the back. Looking at it compared to any modern camera and it looks tiny. At the time, it seemed HUGE! By articulating up and down, I was able to look down on the screen much like I did with some of the medium format cameras with the waist level finders. Much easier than having to get down low and look through the tiny tiny viewfinder. It also meant that with a small wireless remote, I could trigger the camera's shutter and avoid all sorts of vibration and shake. 

When folks tell me that you have to have the latest and greatest camera for your clients, I am mystified. This was a 5MP camera. Cameras nowadays are 16-24MP for the most part... and yet everyone is still clamoring for higher pixel count. The photo of the plates below was blown up to poster size as well as being used on our studio open house postcards... and it never showed the limitations of low resolution. Hmmm.

The race is on now for cameras to have obscenely high ISO sensitivity. Some of the latest dslrs have the ability to take darkness and turn it into daylight (or pretty darned close). The problem is that the depth of the color in most instances has suffered. My Olympus C-5050z would almost always be set at ISO 64. Yeah, low ISO, higher color fidelity. Amazing tonal range. There was something "fleshy" about the colors. They never seemed muddy or off.

So why am I talking about this ancient camera? After my surgery last week, I am limited to lifting ten pounds or less for the next few months. Where my Nikon is concerned, that is doable, but not easy. Just putting a few lenses into my bag, along with my D300s body, and other assorted stuff I always seem to need on a shoot, and suddenly that bag weighs twenty pounds at the very least.

During my week-long hospital stay, I found myself using my only available camera... the one in my iPad. I am not a big Apple fanboy. Sorry. If you are, enjoy it. I can certainly appreciate the design experience, but there are so many failings of Apple products for me, but that can be discussed another time. As I was saying.... I was shooting things in the hospital by using my iPad. What I enjoyed more than anything was being able to do all of my post-processing immediately. Flip from the Camera setting to any one of the dozens of photo editing apps, and BOOM! It was edited, played with, saved and shared to Facebook. Total elapsed time: minutes. Hmmm.

All of a sudden I was enjoying photography for a new/old reason. I was digging the immediacy of the process. More importantly though I think, was that there are some massive limitations of using an iPad compared to a "real" dslr. For me, those limitations become easy access to creative problem solving. It forces my brain to do more thinking than just going click. This was also the case back when I was using the Olympus C-5050z.

Since returning home from the hospital three days ago, I have taken the Olympus everywhere I go. It hasn't left my side. I shoot things that I would normally ignore. They aren't snapshots as much as feelings. They are an attempt for me to find visual ways to communicate some of the difficult aspects of the healing process. I never thought I would fall in love with this little camera again, but I am head over heels. It is such a pain in the ass camera compared to my Nikons; it shoots slow as hell, it sucks down batteries, it takes forever to process just one image, and the list goes on and on. When I load them up in Lightroom, at least half are blurry due to the lack of optical stabilization (or faster shutter speed)...but the few images that are spot on, ... those images are what I want. And it makes me want to push myself harder each time I pick it up.

At the end of the day, I am left wondering if there is a modern equivalent of this tiny handful of a camera. Is there something out there that will make me gush like this ten years from now? Quite a few photographers have suggested I go with the Fujifilm X100s which just came out. Other ideas? Have you used something that you think would work perfectly for my needs? I am all ears.

Growing Plants in VERY Raised Beds

This past summer, Nancy suggested we try gardening in raised beds. We thought about wooden sided raised beds, but they weren't really going to be high enough to achieve my goal of eliminating bending. Bending at the waist for the last three and a half years has been nearly impossible for me because of the herniation at my ostomy. Nancy came across some groovy ideas for making raised beds in containers using old galvanized troughs and tubs. Seemed kinda silly when I first thought about it, but after we tried out our first one last summer, we went nuts through the winter. 

This summer is the first time we are using them to produce food.... and WOW! Do they produce food!! We have two containers with peas, and brassicas. Both have produced far more food than we would have seen in 2-3x the space on the ground. No weeding really to speak of. VERY dense growing. The main "weeding" has been constant thinning of plants. If it stops producing, it comes up out of the dirt and something else goes in. Very different way of gardening for me.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trumansburg Community Chorus

Last weekend was the Trumansburg Community Chorus Spring Concert. I had been asked to create a few images of the performers for their website and other promotional materials. This was a very fun task for so many reasons. For one, I knew quite a few of the performers, so there was a lovely personal connection. Trumansburg is a small town, no question... and doing things in a small town really brings home the reasons for choosing to live in a small town. The choir director was my daughter's middle school music teacher. Stuff like that. In short, this shoot offered community connection, many technical challenges and best of all, surprises!

My biggest concern initially was lighting the large church chapel. Tall ceilings, narrow windows, and being between other tall buildings does not make for good indoor lighting. I had hoped I would be able to shoot this scene with just my speedlights and pocketwizards... keeping me footloose and able to avoid the hassle of lengthy setup. The first handful of images with just the speedlights was sorely disappointing. Even with my ISO cranked up I was barely pulling in enough light to work with; certainly not usable.    

In order to throw soft light a good distance, and to avoid unflattering shadows, I decided to bounce my big studio strobes into umbrellas, fired from the middle of the church, on opposite sides of the far aisles. They were triggered with wireless triggers (pocketwizards). 

By being able to shoot during the rehearsal two days before the concert, Aurora and I were able to figure out exact lighting placement, and figure out what settings we might need to adjust to get things just right in-camera. My goal was to be able to set up while the musicians arrived, grab a few frames (having already tested angles, shooting position, and lighting), and then break down and clean up before guests arrived for the concert.

My plan: arrive early... allot 15 min for setup, shoot for ten minutes, then break it all down. I figured we could do it in less than 45 minutes. All that planning paid off. We had more than an hour to work with (since the musicians didn't all arrive on-time) and it was infinitely more relaxed than we anticipated. Everything went off without a hitch. The one thing I wish we had been able to stage: I would have loved a few images with the choral director and the pianist facing the camera/crowd. That would have been fantastic. Next time!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Trying To Muddle Through

I think this photo was snapped by Granny over a decade ago. Before the coma, before the hernia, before the back surgeries. Looking at Aurora's face, I don't think any of us thought we would ever have to muddle through so much to get where we are today. 

So where are we? We are in Rochester, four days post-op after finally having my colostomy reversed and the massive hernia fixed. The original plan was that they would send me home 3-4 days after surgery... but as with all the best laid plans... we didn't account for a sluggish large intestine. Apparently waking it up with a great big hernia going-away party with lots of lights and streamers wasn't enough to wake it up from its 4 yr slumber. 

Satuday, today, has been spent trying to get peristalsis to happen. Instead I am tending to a truculent large intestine by offering it things like lime jello. C'mon! You want this process to get underway? Toss a large cheese pizza under the door and watch this intestine wake up and take notice!

But this distracts me from the muddle.

With copious time on my hands, I have been thinking a great deal about the last time I was in the hospital for the "extended stay" at the luxurious ICU suites. Aurora was so stalwart when she came to  see me in the ICU back in 2009. When she came to see me earlier today (and again a few days ago) it was such a difference experience for her. She knew I was safer, doing better physically, and most importantly, she was able to talk to me about the things going on in her life. Today she left just so she could go home and attend a friend's graduation party. I can't remember the last time Aurora wanted to go to a party. That she could feel secure enough in my well being to relax and enjoy herself means we have made a ton of progress muddling through all the trauma from four years ago. 

It has been a long slog, uphill for a frustrating amount of the time, but with this surgery working out so well, it feels like there is something so positive to look forward to now. That is incredibly exciting! Feels less like muddling through and more like a breakthrough!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Seriously Warped (and Twisted!)

This compilation of short stories from Gordon Bonnet is incredible. I was asked to come up with cover art based on the lead story. When the story is so graphic and simple, yet seriously twisted, creating an image to illustrate that kind of imagery is tough. Especially since the story takes place in a desert... inside a car. Hmmm. Hard to shoot that sort of image when it is springtime in upstate NY.

This series of short stories has no shortage of  avenues down the creepy, twisty roads of weirdness. I am honored to have been asked again, to illustrate such a fine storyteller's work. Now that it has made it's way to the bookshelf, I am waiting to see what the next novel will hold!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Senior Portraits of Callie

Callie and I went out on a Saturday morning, in the misty, falling rain, to try to create a few portraits before the school year ended. Callie is a fantastic dancer! Her movement in our tiny studio made me realize just how small our space really is. We did a few shots indoors and then decided that it would be far more fun to take this energy outside. Here are a few images from our session.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dust That Burns (part 3)

Getting home was a blur. I couldn't tell you if I took the same route home that I had taken to get to Lowes or not. All I know is that when I pulled into the driveway something had changed. The air wasn't thick with the weight of summer humidity. The trees didn't cast such heavy shade.

I had only been gone a few hours, but something was different.

As I walked up the stone slab walk to the house, I could feel a distinct chill. Like the downward draft just in front of a storm. The trees overhead were still and there was no sound from birds or any other critters. The sky overhead was blue and bright, but that chill was everywhere now.

Reaching the doorway, I felt a sense of relief. Turning the knob and hearing the door open smoothly made me smile. Suddenly I was home. As I crossed the threshold into the entryway, I looked up the stairs. Everything that had been covered with boxes and strewn with construction debris was now quite clean.

I expected that we would have ample time over the weekend to get any painting work done that Lowes failed to accomplish. Instead I found the entire house completely refinished. The Roasted Pumpkin paint had definitely been the right choice. Somehow they had also painted one of the adjacent rooms a rich plum. There were wonderful details brought out in the woodwork that had obviously had more done to it than a simple dusting would have fixed. Someone had really pulled out all the stops.

And then I noticed the chill in the air again. The house was cold. Not drafty, but still and darkly cold. The only warmth I could feel came from the windows. Even the new autumnal paint job seemed to recede into the dark coolness that swept around me.

I called out to Nancy in hopes that maybe she had an explanation. No sound came from anywhere in the house. I started walking up the stairs which before had creaked with every step. Now those steps were silent. It was as though the air couldn't hold one single note of sound.

I reached the landing and marveled at how the picture window had been cleaned. Looking around the hall, I realized that the bedroom doors were all shut except one. The bedroom with the door we couldn't get to open previously, was open. Before it hadn't been locked, but the door simply wouldn't budge. I had assumed it was swollen with the summer humidity, or maybe it had been painted shut. Now it was wide open and I could hear movement inside.

I stepped into the room and felt the air change again. This room had not been touched.

At the foot of the bed were two chairs. The chairs faced the window, with the drapes thrown open. The air was less cold. More a feeling of air being stirred. Still too much dust in the air. A bitterness and a bite to it.

It was only then that I realized that the drawers had been opened and that there were clothes on the bed and strewn on the floor. Beautiful clothes. Silks and satins that definitely were not part of any life I had shared with my wife. More importantly, it was obvious that no one had touched these drawers in an awfully long time.

Turning around, I started for the door. I knew that Nancy had to be around here somewhere. As I reached the doorway, she came in. Standing there, wearing clothes that were elegant, timeless and yet totally out of time... I was dumbstruck. I felt like I was staring at Jackie Onassis... in my own bedroom. Nancy looked perfectly content. This wasn't dress-up. This was real. She had found her time.

I walked out into the hallway to catch my breath. I was in shock. How long had I been gone? Where did I really go? What had happened to this house?

I looked out the window and watched the snow falling. Wait! Snow? It was summer. Hot high summer. And now there was snow? I went to the front door, and sure enough there were kids walking down the street, singing carols as they went. There was a good few inches of snow covering our yard. I looked back at our house and the fading cracked paint job had become pristine, and bright. Everything was clean and new. I looked up and down the street for our moving truck but it was nowhere to be found.

I looked up into our tall trees along the side yard and realized that they were shaking. Shaking and laughing.

I stood out there for a while. Not knowing whether or not to go back inside. I was strangely comfortable, albeit a touch chilled. There was even a sense of relief. Snowflakes touched my eyelashes and as I blinked, I reached up to rub my eyes. I could still smell the dust on my skin. The dust that burns.

Dust That Burns (part 2)

The story left off with me going out to the moving truck on my way to the hardware store to look for paint and things to help with our new home.

After a day of moving boxes and trying to get painted-shut windows to open, what I wanted was a respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. All day the sweat had been rolling down my forehead into my eyes, mixing with the dust we stirred up as we moved about the house. The bitter mix of salted sweat and acrid dust had saturated my t-shirt and left me wondering if I would be thrown out of the hardware store for looking so awful. I brushed off as much of the crud and debris as I could before getting into the moving truck.

As soon as the ignition started, I cranked the air conditioning on full blast. Half expecting it to already be cool, I instead was hit with a wave of hot plastic smelling air. With the windows rolled down and wishing for a cool breeze, I pulled away from our new house. I was pretty sure that the hardware store wouldn't be a long enough drive for the moving truck's AC unit to nullify the oppressive heat.

Part of my memory recalled passing a Lowe's hardware store on our way through town earlier that day. As I pulled into the vast parking lot, I was struck by the sheer size of everything. From the size of the building, to the massive emptiness of the asphalt parking area; I felt dwarfed before I even walked through the door. When the doors slid open, there was a quick scent of antiseptic which gave way almost instantly to the omnipresent odor of plastics and solvents that seem to accompany all of the plastic products these days.

Slipping into an almost familiar walk down the aisles of the hardware store, smells continued to pop up in the strangest of places. Standing near the electric fireplaces and the snowblowers, I was overwhelmed by the smells of kerosene fuel and potpourri trying painfully hard to be reminiscent of either balsam or cinnamon. Wave after contrasting wave of smells chased me throughout the store. With all the dust I had been breathing, I expected my allergies to be kicking in. Instead I felt as though I could see the smells before they made their way into my nose.

Somewhere between the plumbing section and the paint department, I suddenly smelled pumpkin pie. I don't mean that I smelled potpourri that tried to emulated pumpkin pie. I mean I smelled pumpkin pie, homemade crust, cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of cloves. I could smell the vanilla in the whipped cream. I could tell that the custard had been out of the oven only a few moments... all of this... just from the smell. Turning at the end of the aisle, I knew that someone had to be putting on some sort of cooking demo and I was certain there would be pumpkin pie for the sampling. I reached the end of the aisle, and there was nothing. The smell vanished and was replaced with the bitter scent of sweeping compound and floor wax. I turned around, assuming I had somehow missed the pumpkin pie, on some shelf... it had to be there. Looking back down the way I had come, the row seemed taller, colder and a touch darker. The smell was gone.

Trying to shake it off, I leaned into the next aisle, partly hoping to bump into someone working in the paint department. Instead I nearly ran into a pallet of gallon cans of primer, stacked right in the middle of the aisle. No one seemed to be working in this department so I wandered over into the electrical department. Surely there had to be someone around who could help me mix up some custom paint colors and help me find a portable air conditioning unit for our bedroom window. Maybe a fan or two?

Seeing no one in the electrical department, I started back towards the paint supply area. Standing in front of the cans of paint, leaning against the pallet was a young man. Obviously friendly and ready to help, he looked at me as though he knew exactly what I needed. I was taken aback by his extraordinary friendliness. He assured me that not only could he help me... but I would be so surprised.

I told him what I needed: Roasted Pumpkin paint from Behr paint, 4 gallons. One five gallon bucket of primer. Some TSP for cleaning the window trim and some stains on the walls. He suggested a dropcloth to keep the hardwood floors free from stains and spills.

I mentioned how hot it had been at the house and how much I missed the air conditioning from our old apartment. He asked if we had considered having AC installed in our new home. I grumbled something about it being an old home, not worth the effort and besides central air was expensive. I figured we could get by with just a window unit, at least for this summer. He looked up into my face and smiled. He made some comment about how we had suffered enough and that he had just the thing. He showed me a strange box which apparently sat outside, on the ground and once hooked up to power, would use small ducts running outside the house, and would then bring them into each room discretely. He said that if I chose to buy this unit today, they would be able to install it immediately.

I hemmed and hawed. I was sure it was more money than we wanted to spend right then. He didn't mention the cost for installation, so I assumed it was going to take a big bite of our move-in money. He put his hand on my list, folded the paper up neatly and tucked it away into his shirt pocket. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, clear as day: "by the time you get home, we'll be done and cleaned up."

I asked how soon they would be able to start, assuming he was joking about the speed that they would be able to do the work. He brought up his clipboard with a form to sign, took my credit card and walked to his terminal behind his desk. He made a quick call on his radio to the stockroom, ensuring that they did in fact have this unit, ready to install. I signed the forms and made my way to the front of the store. I felt mighty smart, having found all the stuff I needed and a nice little surprise for my sweaty dusty wife. Then it hit me. I had forgotten all the paint. I turned around to go back and the young man spun me back around almost as if I had been smacked. He leaned in close, pointed to a checkout lane and admonished me to go home. He reassured me that by the time I got home, it would all be taken care of.

I asked about the paint; he replied, "yep, Roasted Pumpkin, two coats of primer, got it."

Stepping into the checkout line I noticed that instead of lawnmowers and gardening impliments, there were plastic pumpkins and inflatable snowmen. Boxes of Christmas lights were stacked along the checkout lane, as though a last minute reminder of what one would need, spur of the moment. I chuckled and thought how silly that anyone would be putting such things out now, in the middle of the summer.

I made my way out to my rental truck, empty handed. As I left the store, I realized that somehow I had gotten turned around. I thought I was leaving by the same entrance I had come in, but as I walked through the sliding glass doors, I found myself walking through the Garden section. Instead of annuals, perennials and shrubs, it was filled with bobbing inflatable snowmen, snowglobes large enough for a child or two to sit inside, giant air filled christmas trees that glowed from inside. Just before I reached the exit I realized where the smells had been coming from. There were huge fans, probably six feet in diameter, each hooked to huge corrugated flexible tubes that were pumping incredibly strong scents into the building. From outside I could see the small gallon jars of flaming scented oil that had been placed so that the burning fumes could be drawn into the store.

Needing to reorient myself as I left the garden center, I finally found my rental truck and unlocked the door. Inside, on my driver's set, was the receipt I had accidentally left during my checkout. Quite taken aback, I tried to shake off the beginnings of a very strange feeling. Chalking it up to over friendly folks just wanting to help, I climbed into the cab of the truck. It took a few turns of the key to get the engine to start. With a grumble, a huff and chug, the engine finally turned over. The air conditioning was still turned on high, but the dust that puffed out was wholly unexpected. I coughed for a minute and quickly turned off the vents.

Rolling down the window as I got the truck rolling, I relished the cooler night air. It seemed as though the heat of the day had finally broken. It wasn't a long drive back to my house, but in a short while I had to roll up the window. It was actually getting chilly. Maybe not cold, but certainly cool. As I cranked up the window, the handle felt cold to the touch. I hadn't driven more than a block or two before I felt chilled. Probably just the sweat on my clothes evaporating, I told myself. That didn't stop the shivering from being very real.


Dust That Burns (part 1 of a longer coma dream)

When I moved into my new house, I knew that it needed some work. It was painfully apparent that it would need a new paintjob. From the street the house had good bones, but the paint more closely resembled an albino sunburn. The white paint was peeling in sheets and there was obvious water damage everywhere the paint had failed. My guess was that it would need some basic refinishing inside too. I never expected the house would renovate us.

Nancy and I moved in during the first weeks of fall when students return to college. The last few days of summer made a sudden appearance driving the thermometer higher than any of us expected. After spending the day in the moving truck, the last thing I expected was to walk into our new home and find it too hot to sleep. It was like a furnace inside. The windows had been painted shut, god only knows when... and with the storm windows still in place, the house was a stagnant crypt. The scent of mothballs and dust hung in the air, waiting for a breeze to stir. How they managed to keep a house free of mice with no cats living here was a complete mystery to me.

We had bought the house, sight unseen. We paid next to nothing for it, reasoning that as an older home, it would need some major renovation. Most well cared-for New England homes were usually at least 150 years old. This one was considerably older. Over two hundred years old and had the old-wood-smell to prove it. The doorways were much narrower and shorter than I was used to. The doors were solid plank wood, made with real mortise and tenons. There wasn't a single matching doorknob in the entire home.

Most of the house had been emptied before our arrival, though we had been told to expect to find some belongings left behind by the previous tenants. We were told by the realtor that someone would be by sometime in the next week to pickup the trunks and would arrange for shipping. It was hardly adequate preparation for what we found when we walked upstairs.

The bedrooms at the top of the stairs formed a nearly perfect-T, with one room on either side of the stairs, a bathroom directly ahead, and if you walked past either room the hall led to the only large upstairs window, complete with a window seat, framed on both sides by bookcases. The shelves were empty and the cushions were threadbare and nearly opaque grey with dust. There was an old pencil that had been left on the window seat. When I picked it up, the dust powdered off like fine confectioner's sugar. I set it back in place, afraid that someone might notice we had been here.

Mind you, we bought this house. We weren't invading someone's home.... but it didn't feel like our house.

The upstairs room's doors were all closed. Given the stifling heat, our goal was to get some air moving through the house, crack some windows and try to clear a place to lay down for the night. The big moving in could wait till the following morning. We started with the bathroom. Nancy reached for the small ivory porcelain door knob and turned. The knob spun freely, never engaging the pawl... instead the door swung inward with not a single creak.

The bathroom was unremarkable except for its complete lack of period furnishing. It was obviously a retrofit that had been added in the early 1950's. The tile floor was a dusky harsh green, somewhere between an acid green and chartreuse... but with enough wear to feel more than ready for replacement. The toilet, and tiles along the lower section of the wall matched the putrid green color scheme. As if to confuse matters, the tile on the upper-half of the wall was a pale pink. This covered everything except the mirrored medicine cabinet that hung over the sink. The sink basin was painfully pink. My only hope was that whoever had decorated this bathroom had died, painfully, before they ruined another home. This was awful.

What was odd (odder than the colors at least), was that everything was clean. Spotless really. As though the cleaning crew had been through a day or so earlier, and yet there was none of the chemical smells one would associate with a sparkling clean bathroom. There was even a roll of toilet paper sitting on the side of the tub. I am not sure what I expected, but I had to check inside the medicine cabinet. Maybe I was assuming there would be something more left behind by the previous tenants. Maybe I thought there would be old medicines and toiletries. Perhaps an old razor. It was empty. The glass shelves were dry, a touch dusty, and the enamel on the inside of the medicine cabinet was showing bits of rust in places. The chrome around the frame had definitely seen its share of unvented, lingering showers.

I figured that the other doors into the upstairs bedrooms would likely be like our introduction to the bathroom. I found instead, that the doors wouldn't budge. No amount of muscle would convince the worn cut glass knobs to turn. I walked back to the large window intent on opening the window as much as I could. The old sash windows had been painted closed, years ago most likely. We were prepared for some move-in cleanup, but this was frustrating.

I hustled down the stairs and rummaged through our travelling boxes in hopes of finding a box cutter or a pocket knife. I found our tape measure and a bunch of kitchen supplies; forks, spoons, ladles and such. Lacking an appropriate tool to cut through the paint, I made do with a butter knife. Once the window sash had been cut free of its overzealous paintjob, I raised the window. There were no screens in the window. As I knelt on the cushions of the window seat, I realized that there had to be a prop to hold this window open somewhere. Sure enough, on the lower shelf of the righthand bookcase, there was a wooden prop. I jammed that into the open window and immediately felt a rush of hot, dry, still air move up the stairs and out through the window. Certain that the prop would hold, I abruptly sat down on the cushioned bench, exhausted from the heat. The choking cloud of dust enveloped me for a few moments.

I heard Nancy giggle and realized that she was still near the bathroom and was watching this whole event unfold. Apparently seeing my form disappear into this opaque cloud of dust, and then reappear again, except this time I was dusty grey in form, seemingly struck a humorous chord in her. Crossing the hall towards me, Nancy let me know that it was obvious that the heat was getting to me. Afraid to touch me because of my sudden all-enveloping dust coating, she held me at arm's length and suggested I head into town to see about picking up an air conditioner for the bedroom window. At least then we would be able to sleep through the night.

As I shuffled down the stairs and out of the house, I looked back over my shoulder and felt a shadow move past me. The stairway darkened like a cloud passing in front of the sun, and then returned to its normal brightness. I closed the door behind me and ambled out to our bright yellow rental truck. We may have been new to town, but I was pretty sure we had passed a Lowe's hardware store on the way into town. A quick look in my side mirror, a glance upstairs across the open yard, and I pulled away from the curb.

To be continued....

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thinking About The Weeks To Come

Over the past few weeks I have struggled to come to terms with my feelings about my upcoming surgery. How does one prepare for something this massive? I thought I was prepared when I went in for my first surgery back in 2009. Somehow, I don't think it helped. For all of my Boy Scout preparedness, nothing really prepares you for waking up inside the ICU after a month-long coma. I can't think of anything that prepares you for letting go of your career of over 20 years and reconciling yourself to never being able to lift more than twenty pounds, ever again. So many things that now, may change. 

So what am I thinking about? Where does my mind go during this time of preparation and anxious overload?

I am thinking about all the experiences that happened during the coma. My extended walk-about in the world I struggle to explain. I have hesitated to write about that time simply because of one comment that was posted to my blog. I think that there is still a fair bit I would like to share, so bear with me as I delve into a few of these stories over the next few months.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Today is the Day!

Today is the day! 4pm-7pm, Leon Ginenthal and Renate Schmidt will be hosting Der Rosenmeister's 10th annual Open House during  High Rose Tide. There will be refreshments and music by Cookie Coogan and best of all, LOTS of roses in full bloom! This will happen this afternoon, rain or shine! For more information: or find them at

Board Breaking at Cayuga Lake Seido Karate in Trumansburg

Back in May I was invited by Cayuga Lake Seido Karate, to photograph their board breaking event held at the Trumansburg High School. Watching the intense faces, full of anticipation, fear, excitement, shock and respect, was incredible. Most of these kids had never broken boards before so there was some real trepidation. After seeing and hearing that first CRACK as a board snaps in half, most of the kids could hardly be held back. That pile of wood you see in the background was reduced to split boards and splinters in less than 2 hours!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Harnessing Potential Energy = I need a job

One of the things I have been working with over the past few months is doing more extensive work in my post-processing. Not necessarily trying to "photoshop" my way to a good image, but rather playing with the image the way a painter might push into his still wet paint to try to draw some of the lower layers of paint into the uppermost wet areas.... or the way one might erase areas of a drawing only to go back in and redraw something on top of the old. I see it as a more creative process, rather than simply not achieving my goals in-camera. I know that for purists, getting it right the first time is the absolute goal. For me, post-processing is like having a darkroom minus those smells and stains on my clothes.

In the self-portrait at the top, I deliberately picked my least favorite image from the photo session. I hated the extreme contrast. Really don't love how much of my face is so dark that the detail is gone. Normally, I wouldn't even give the image a second thought. I would just move on and select a better image with better tonal range, maybe a touch of fill flash on that side of my face, etc. I decided this time that I would try out some new software from OnOne called Perfect PhotoSuite 7. Inside PhotoSuite 7 is a program that works either within Photoshop, Lightroom or as a stand-alone product, called Perfect B&W.

Normally my go-to software for black and white adjustment is Nik Silver Efex Pro. Sometimes I can get by with presets I made in Lightroom. Trying out Perfect B&W felt very awkward at first. I know most folks grab a preset and generally are happy with the results. I know what I want LONG before I touch a slider or a preset. I tend to find presets pretty limiting. I only make them if I am working on a series that is shot in very similar lighting conditions... then it pays off in terms of speeding up my processing time, saving me and my client money.

So what how do I feel after playing with Perfect B&W this week? I love it. I want to spend more time pushing the limits on what it can do before I make a serious declarative judgement... but for now, it is my go-to software of choice. The reason: the masking feature is mind blowing. The whole suite uses an incredibly smart system of masks. I was awed by how easy those masks are to create, but also how they could be used between different layers and effects! I am sure there are folks out there that do this day in and day out in Photoshop. If so, try OnOne... you might be surprised.

In the lower image, I was asked my a friend to see what I could do to "play" with his image. He wanted it to feel more moody, more creepy. The plan is to use this image to become a book cover for his short story. Knowing the needs of the end user, both in terms of how the image will be used, but also what sort of tone they want... all of that makes my job more enjoyable. It allows me to adjust aspects of an image that otherwise I would never consider messing around with.

In this case, I was not responsible for the original photograph, I dont have the raw file, and I can't go back and reshoot the scene. Forced to work within those limitations, and knowing the tone of what the author wants was very freeing. Rather than going my usual route, I decided to take a low-tech approach and imported the image into Snapseed on my iPad. One of the attributes of Snapseed that I love so much is that you can work on an image over and over again, using all the different tools within Snapseed. Not quite like layers, but still a very intuitive process. In the end, after not a lengthy edit, I stumbled onto a few ideas, saved them, shared them via email directly from the app, and was finished. Normally I would worry that the resolution of the image wouldn't be adequate.... certainly not enough megapixels to satisfy that pro-photographer who sits on my shoulders. I immediately turned to OnOne again and used PerfectResize to get the image to exactly the size and resolution needed. This image never saw Photoshop. How cool is that?!

Okay, enough geeking out on post-processing computer-photography mumbo-jumbo. Back to morose depressing stuff.

Who Stares Back From The Mirror?

If you had asked me a month ago, how I felt about my upcoming surgery, I think my reply would have been fairly confident, kind of non-committal. Just ready for things to be done.

If you asked me today, how I feel about my upcoming surgery... I would just wish for it to be done sooner.

When I took this photo this morning, I was able to capture my reflection in the mirror over the bathroom sink. It gave me a slightly different take on who is watching who. It made me very aware of the change in perspective that came from my previous surgical experience. (and yeah, I am shooting with an iPad. sue me.)

With that in mind, I am going to spend this next week sharing some of my coma stories, here... rather than on my coma blog. In fact, I think that given the incredibly low readership in both places, the coma blog is redundant. Time to consolidate.

Starting tomorow, we dive headfirst into the rabbit hole.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Looming Questions

Last week I asked a few questions.
So what am I thinking about?
Where is my mind these days?
What is my biggest concern?
What would you like to know?
I wasn't asking for the sake of argument, but rather to spark a conversation. I know that many people find it difficult to talk about their fears and concerns. They can talk around the moon about their little worries and niggling thoughts, but when it comes to brass tacks they shy away from the sharp edges.

So let's talk broken glass.

Let's talk about why I am having yet another surgery.
Let's talk about why my right eye droops ever so slightly.
Let's talk about my family.
Let's talk about why I am so scared.
Let's talk about what happens next.

I have been called courageous. Courageous = brave, not afraid of pain.
That isn't me. I am terrified of pain. I have spent the bulk of my adult life in various levels of very bad pain. Ironically, I am in less pain right now than I was a year ago. I guess courageous in this context is supposed to mean that I am brave enough to face the pain again? Perhaps. But what other choice is there?

So why am I having surgery? This is the surgery to fix all the mistakes that were made the first time around. This is the surgery to end all surgeries. What is the plan? The plan is to "take down" the colostomy, reconnect the large intestine to what remains of the rectum, and then repair the hernia. Two pretty big surgeries all in one fell swoop. There is a chance my surgeon may be able to do this surgery laparoscopically,  but he wont know until he gets in there and sees what he can see. If he doesn't have a clear view of the junction, then I will be opened up down the midline, same as before.

Let's talk about healing:   If he is able to do the surgery laparoscopically, then the healing could be considerably faster. His projection is 4 days in the hospital, and probably a month of rest. If he has to open me up completely, I am planning on being in the hospital a week, then home (and no driving) for 2 months. This is all predicated on the surgery going off without a hitch.

Why does my right eye droop slightly? Apparently that is a product of the extensive sedation and trauma my body went through during the coma. Normally folks don't live through this sort of experience, so a little droop in one eye seems a small price.

So what happens next?
Well, next Saturday I begin the "cleanout" procedure. Other than saying I will be on fluids only for 2 days, and then JUST clear liquids for the final day.... I will leave the rest to your imagination. It ain't pretty.
After that, I show up in Rochester, help the nurses find a nice vein to jab my IV into, and do my best not to sink into a panic attack. Right now I am optimistic that they will let me dose myself with Xanax before I leave  for Rochester.

After that, we shall see. So now let's talk about what comes next!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Wondering What is to Come

In seventeen days I will be laying in a hospital bed, recovering from my next (and hopefully, last) surgery. This will be the surgery where they will attempt to fix all of the things that were left broken over three and a half years ago. The goal is to repair the intestines, get them back inside my body, fix the hernia, and patch the whole abdomen with great big sheets of mesh. If all goes well they are going to try to do it laparoscopically. If when the surgeon gets in there, he can't see as well as he would like, then he'll proceed to open me up fully. The recovery time varies quite a bit depending on procedure.

So what am I thinking about?

Where is my mind these days?

What is my biggest concern?

What would you like to know?