War Against Seeing

Moving Sale!

Rob Walker in “How to Pay Attention“:

From looming billboards to glittering shop windows to the myriad distractions flowing through the pocket-sized screens we carry everywhere, vast and sophisticated efforts prod us to look in specific directions, at specific things, in specific ways. Taken together, they add up to a kind of war against seeing. I try to be part of the resistance.

Walker’s tips are all good strategies for design, writing, and photography exercises. What do you spot that’s interesting, new, or unseen? There’s a photo project in the making.

Notice things that aren’t meant to be noticed creatively – “attend to some recurring thing that is ubiquitous” Walker says – and you get one of those cataloging projects that are such a joy. For myself, that includes handmade yard sale signs. It’s a little thing, but it’s fun.

(via Austin Kleon)


Elder at SXSW

“Dead Roots Stirring” doesn’t really get going until 3:33 in, but that’s what I love about Elder: noodly, jamming metal from a fantastic trio.

Elder gets labelled a doom/stoner metal band, but I think there’s a bit of prog in there, too. They’re one of those bands that I turn on and let play all morning: repetitive, great hooks, and meandering. That turn at 9:15 or so? It’s like another song buried in the larger song. So good.

Looking forward to what they come up with next.


The Whole Instagram Culture

Instagram Culture

Ines Perković on Instagram and starting fresh:

I decided to get off the mainstream wagon and search for modest streams with great and unique photos. Not that I think my photos are great and unique but, you have to do things differently in order to get different results. I just want to go back to the basics. Honestly, I’m tired of kayak on a lake and feet sticking out of a van photos.  I mean, it’s all good photography but when you see the same thing over and over again, it becomes boring.

Couldn’t say it better myself.

Look for the unique, the different, and the you.

(By the way, I profiled Perković for my photographer interview series – she does great work.)


Gateway to Art

Experience the Art

“The gateway drug is not creating art, but experiencing art.” – Christoph Niemann in Abstract: The Art of Design

Indeed. I’m lucky, working at a museum, because I experience art every day. But even before this job, I made sure to visit museums and seek out good work.

Artists’ websites, photo books, small town galleries – there’s no excuse not to surround yourself with, and absorb, art. I’d argue, given everything else, that it makes you a better artist.


On Compact, Fixed-Lens Cameras

Canon Canonet

Leave it to Eric Kim to beat me to a post I’ve been mulling over for months:

There is no perfect or ideal lens or focal length out there. Rather, it is about finding the lens or focal length which fits 80% of your needs. Psychologists call this “satisficing” (a mix between satisfying and sufficing). Rather than aiming for “perfect”, you aim for “good enough.” And by aiming for “good enough”, you are a lot happier and and satisfied than people who are “maximizers” and aim for “perfection.”

When I buy a Mac, I always go for the consumer, mid-range version. I bought an iBook, the consumer-grade notebook, and now I buy iMacs, the consumer-grade desktop. It’s nice to have a pro machine, but the combo of size, price, and capabilities make the mid-range Macs my go-to computers.

So it’s going to be with me and cameras. My Canon EOS M, the Canonet, the Olympus Trip 35, even the Fuji X100 I rented for a week – these are all consumer grade, small size, fixed lens (the 22mm never leaves my M) cameras, and they’re my favorite to take with me when I’m looking for ease of use and image quality.

Even with my Fuji X-E1, the 27mm pancake lens never left the front of that camera, and it was – in spirit – a fixed-lens compact camera, perfect for traveling.

As Kim says, these kinds of cameras (Sony makes one, as does Leica, Canon maybe be working on a full frame version, etc.) are good enough for most needs. Need to get closer? Move closer. Need a wider angle? Buy a 28mm version. For most people, 28-40mm is good enough for most situations, and most of the film compact cameras came with a 40-ish lens for a reason.

Also, you just can’t beat the size and portability. It’s the throw-it-in-the-front-seat-of-your-car situation: is the camera small enough to take with you on most daily commutes and travel? Will it fit in your commuter bag or purse? Is it unobtrusive, and is it easy to carry around?

Just as important: is it fun to use?

For these smaller, fixed-lens cameras, the answer is almost always “yes.”


My Favorite Season

Happy Spring

Spring is, far and away, my favorite season. Waking up out of winter, flowers and trees blossoming, trips to the greenhouse, yard work and walks around the neighborhood – plus those perfect May days in Michigan, where the temperature reaches a perfect mid 70s.

Bring it on.


Artist In Residence

Porcupine Mountains, Michigan

Talk about an opportunity:

The Artist-in-Residence Program is open to artists and artisans whose work can be influenced by the unique northern wilderness setting of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s largest state park encompasses 25 miles of wave-washed shores, four inland lakes, entire river systems, countless waterfalls, enchanting wooded peaks, and an escarpment, which rises slowly from the edge of Lake Superior until it plummets abruptly into the Carp River valley.

The Artist-in-Residence Program offers writers, composers and all visual and performing artists an opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the park and to express it through their art form. Each year a number of artists will be selected for residencies lasting a minimum of two weeks.

Again: if I were a younger man, and photography was a hobby, I would jump at this.

Back in 2011, I visited Michigan’s only mountain range during a drive-through trip in the Upper Peninsula. It’s beautiful country. A two-week stay to do nothing but explore and make art? It would’ve been a dream for my younger self.


Lack Of Agency

Lack Of Agency

Seth Godin’s recent post hit a nerve:

There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don’t have much choice in the matter.

They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.

But you have more choice than you know.

In our recent move, I’ve twice dealt with corporations and utilities that have made me feel like I have no agency. Most recently, Apple Support left me hanging on an Apple ID and iTunes issue. Apple! A company I’ve supported each of my adult years!

Call support centers are a form of capitalist nihilism. There’s no reason for any of the decisions made except to make the company’s situation better, and to help you feel powerless. It’s rare that a support interaction has a positive outcome – so rare, that we marvel at Creation when it happens.

My Apple interaction was especially galling. From 2005-2008, I purchased a bunch of music under an old Apple ID. From 2008 on, I’ve been purchasing music from a different Apple ID, unaware of the consequences, so now I have a bunch of music in limbo. The support center’s solution? “Switch Apple IDs each time you want to listen to that music.” Helpful! And silly. What they don’t tell you is that each time you switch Apple IDs in iTunes, it locks the previous Apple ID for 90 days.

Three months! Unacceptable. And completely arbitrary.

So now I’ll be sticking to downloading my music from companies with fewer arbitrary restrictions (as Godin writes, keeping the “ability to shop around”). It’s one of the reasons I don’t rely on subscription-based music services. There is, by definition, no agency involved in that transaction. If you unsubscribe, all the music goes away.

The larger point can be applied to creativity and photography, of course. There’s creative agency – that sense of not being held hostage by expectations and self-imposed pressure. On the technology side, by submitting our work to Instagram and Tumblr, you’re giving up a bit of agency. And if something goes wrong, your only recourse is a faceless call center, if that.

My one weak spot: Flickr. I rely on Ol’ Reliable for so much of what I do, including image hosting for this very blog. And I have a lot of time and infrastructure wrapped up in that website. If something goes wrong, I’ll be in a bit of trouble. It won’t be catastrophic, but it certainly won’t be fun.

When we keep our agency, in the form of hosted, backed-up websites and blogs, we have a bit more say in the matter. We can always pack up and put up our tent somewhere else.