misc

To Madelyn

A letter to my daughter

Dear Madelyn,

Last week was your first national political election. At just over a year old, you already participated in American democracy, even if it was not directly. And as you joined me in polling booth, I feel like we had high hopes.

I put you to bed last Tuesday night feeling both sad and grateful. Sad, because maybe you wouldn’t grow up having a woman president to look up to, but grateful that you’re growing up in an America that makes it decently safe and secure to live as a woman. You have more privileges than some, but less than others. You probably have more to worry about from non-political threats.

Historically, the good news is American does grow more tolerant as the years pass by. Blacks and Latinos, while still harried and threatened, are in a better situation than when your grandparents were born. Muslims may have more to worry about. The nation still mostly fights for women’s rights. Gay and lesbian and whatever couples can legally marry. Even the furries are gaining respect (maybe).

But I still worry about the environment we’ll leave you, both in terms of nature and politics. I worry about what art and music education will be like when you’re going to school. I worry about how your peers will be treated by people who are white and scared and stupid. I worry about the America you’ll grow up in. It’s survived a lot over these 200+ years, but you never know.

It’s obvious to say it, but your world will look very different than mine does. I hope it’s for the better, and I’m going to try like hell to make it better. I hope that there will be a woman elected president, and that you’ll get to vote for her. I hope I get to vote for her, too.

Maybe we can go vote together again.

Your dad,
Dave


Fear the Future

Election Day

Things I’m nervous about today:

  • The election
  • Should Hillary win, the kind of Congress she’ll get (and work with)
  • Voter intimidation, and disenfranchisement
  • My well pump behaving as normal
  • Climate change
  • The inability to print my baby’s first year photo book because Aperture won’t let you print books anymore

Things I can actually do something about:

  • Voting, including taking the kids with me
  • Watching the election results roll in on TV tonight
  • Flush my well water so it’s safe to drink
  • Vote for candidates who respect education, science, and the findings of scientists
  • Finding another solution to printing a beautiful photo book that I’ve already laid out and captioned

An action-packed day here in America as we elect our local, state, and national leaders for the next two to four years. I vote in a rural township hall, and usually only have a dozen or so people in front of me when I go to vote. This year, I’m taking the kids with me out of child care necessity, but I’m looking forward to exposing the kids to this important national ritual.

If you follow me on Twitter, you can probably guess at my political affiliation. After being nervous about the outcome for weeks now, over the weekend I finally resigned myself to trusting the national body politic to make the wise choice.

Frankly, I’ll just be glad when it’s over. And for all of us, I hope we pay less attention to this stuff until much later in the cycle, for sanity’s sake. It’s not healthy for America to be in campaign mode for 18-plus months. Six months would be plenty.


Strange November

Strange November

November so far here in Michigan has been rare and lovely: mid 60s, sunny, and the leaves have held on for what seems to be a longer time.

But then there’s all the weirdness in my life right now: the whole family has been sick, we’re trying to sell our house, the election. To top it off, yesterday our water well pump gave up the ghost – while I was in the shower, with shampoo still in my hair, no less.

That’s life, right? The good and the bad. The strange and the secure. Everything is in transition.

Luckily, the nicer weather means more chances to make photographs. I took the boy to an area nature preserve yesterday for some hiking, just to get out in the woods. My wife picked up a bushel of random apples yesterday, so I may do a little still life project around that.

Strange November. It may get even stranger tomorrow night. Make sure you get out and vote.


House Shopping

House Shopping

My wife and I are house shopping. It’s been a big project, getting our house ready for sale while simultaneously looking at other homes.

One thing I love about our current house is the light. Lots of windows, east/west facing, plenty of natural light – it’s spoiled me over the years.

Now, as we house hunt, light is a big decider for me. Does the space feel open? Are there a decent number of windows? Which way does the sunlight come in? How will that change over the day, or the seasons?

The place above caught my eye right away. When we walked in, the light coming into the dining room made me take notice. That’s light I could get used to.


The Academic Life

The Academic Life

A recent episode of Roderick on the Line had me thinking about our aptitudes, and whether our vocation takes advantage of our particular talents.

For me, it’s all books and learning and research and art. If I have a life made up of some combination of those things, along with working with talented students to make things, then I’m satisfied. It’s not like I’m saving the world, but I am, in an indirect way, helping to make it a better place.

High education has been my calling since I was in college. I knew then what I wanted to do, and here I am doing it.

As I took a walk around the University of Michigan’s campus yesterday afternoon—sky heavy with rain clouds, early autumn leaves falling, EarthFest fair going on in the Diag, students heading to class—it hit me, as it always does, that I’m working my dream job. I value education, I value the search for truth, and so to lend my expertise to that effort makes me feel like I’m in the right place.


Books Are Friends

Books Are Friends

Seth Godin, announcing his $159 giant-ass book of blog posts and writings:

A book is a special object, a time-tested conveyor of not just information, but emotion and connection. Some of my best friends are books.

…All the words are already online for free (it’s a collection of my online writing over the last four years). What you can’t get online, though, is the feeling of owning it and the joy of gifting it.

That’s why all the digital publishing platforms and blog posts in the world can’t replace a book: the joy of owning, giving, and experiencing.

My practice is, try to buy a photo book every month. For $20-50, I get an education and a way of seeing the world. It’s a darned good deal.

Godin’s book is $159 for writing you can read for free, right now. But it also has photos by Thomas Hawk, and is this massive monolith of thought and wit that you can take down and re-read – no batteries required. Godin’s book will sell out, surely, which says there’s a market and that the books is valued.

Craig Mod just kicked butt on a Kickstarter book project about a walk through Japan. Maybe, after all the hype about eBooks, people are realizing that physical books are just fine.

Books are humanity’s friends. Books are here to stay. They’ve been around for longer than most empires, and many will stick around for even longer.

While I love viewing photography online, and checking out blogs from my favorite artists, buying a book is a true vote of confidence for someone’s work.

 


Enough Is Enough

Enough is Enough

At first, I only checked Facebook once per week (based on a good recommendation).

Then, I quit my photo blog at Tumblr and opened up this one.

Soon, it seems, I’ll want to quit Instagram. That leaves Twitter and Flickr (which is barely “social”), and who knows what’ll happen with those two. Or any other social media platform that has us, as users and creatives, doing all the real work for them.

No, it’s all too much.

This is not a rage quit. It’s the product of a lot of small, quiet frustrations that leave me thinking I can spend my time doing other things.

It’s not a new revelation, and Lord knows I’m not the first to discover social media is a waste of time. But as I get older, and I have friends and family, and projects to do around the house, and little patience for the increasing amount of (mostly irrelevant) ads blinking in my face, the less appealing all these “What are you up to?” platforms become.

I still enjoy my quiet little corner of Twitter, with my Mac nerds and fellow photographers. And I still dig the work people post on Flickr. I’ve set up my social media accounts to show me mostly stuff and people I’m interested in. It’s just that more and more on those other platforms, advertising and “features” are intruding. To what benefit?

As Jörg Colberg writes, “If you’re happy with being a passenger and with having to change vehicles usually the moment you’ve become a bit comfortable, then stick with Silicon Valley’s boom-and-bust cycle. If that’s not what you want, going back to blogging is likely to give you a lot more agency.”

So here I am, with a relaunched blog, away from Tumblr.

Another problem is that marketers and brands have gotten a hold of these sites and used them for marketing. I think a lot of the marketing world is waking up to the realization that social media isn’t the be-all, end-all marketing channel for the modern consumer. If anything, people switch social media platforms to escape the ads and intrusiveness. I should know: I’m one of those people using social media to “engage” with customers and visitors – but I don’t do it with a clear conscience, because I hate seeing all that “engagement” crap, too.

It’s tough feeling like you can’t get your stuff out there to be seen without social media, and yet being uncomfortable with the idea of using social media at all. I’m a pretty private person, and I feel weird every time I try to promote something on Facebook, Twitter, etc. As a photographer, it’s a Catch 22.

I don’t have any answers right now. The trick is finding the mix that works, and that’s a work in progress.

 

 


Break Time

Break Time

Jon Wilkening is taking a much-needed break from his work, and from social media, this month.

Good for him. And it’s such a Today thing to do. I’ve seen so many blog posts lately where the authors are taking the month of July and turning off all social media.

I do that from time to time, usually on vacation or around the holidays. I find that I usually don’t miss much, and what I do miss, I don’t know any better.

Taking breaks from your hobby can be helpful, too. Last winter, after I finished my portrait project, I needed to step away from photography and recharge. The same thing happened this spring when I got my new job: my brain needed to work out other things than exposures and apertures.

So take a breather. And don’t feel guilty about it.


My Next Adventure

Thank you cards

If you were to ask me what my dream job was 10 years ago, five years ago, even a year ago, I would’ve said it’s my current job. My whole life has prepared me for working in communications at a small, liberal arts college like Albion College. I knew that much when I was in college.

I still feel that way. Higher education is a calling for me, kind of like a monastery is for those who are spiritual. My belief system is strongly tied to learning, and I believe in education so much that whatever I do for a living, I want to be around it.

But then the arts came in after I started treating photography as a serious hobby. And as I got more serious about it, I started to learn more about the arts, and study the great works and art history.

What if I could combine those two passions: education and the arts?

Turns out it’s possible, and that’s why I’ve accepted a position as communications manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA).

It’s a tremendous opportunity. I’ll be working with curators and artists, on a big state university campus, in a world-class art museum. UMMA has been a special place to me for 10 years now. I try to visit the museum at least once a year, and spend the day around Ann Arbor and campus. It feels good get a job at a place I enjoy so much.

My time at Albion has been life-changing, as I knew it would be. America’s small, liberal arts schools are such a treasure. They allow students to wander and grow and learn and make connections – especially for those students who, like me, like to do a lot of things.

One thing that Albion did so well was show its appreciation, as you can see from the thank you cards above. I collected them over the years, because I was humbled by how often they arrived in my mailbox. People at Albion know how to write a thank you note.

I’ll try to take that lesson with me at Michigan.