Let’s Talk about Truth in Advertising

As she so often does, my amazing friend Celi brought up once again the question of what we photograph, and how, and why, and what it can mean when we do so. As an avid, inveterate and truly—in the old sense—amateur photographer myself, this topic remains of great and constant interest. In the present climate of world politics, especially our wildly messy and weird American version of them, we certainly become obsessed with the idea of which of us has a complete grip on The Truth (absolutely nobody, in my opinion) and how we wield it (selfishly and manipulatively, IMO), and whether we’re arguing about what is real in visual or verbal images it pretty much plays out the same. We’re all generally trying to express how we understand the world, and to convince ourselves and others that our understanding is the smartest or best one.Photos: My HDR 1

Me, I edit a high proportion of my photos, many of them very heavily—but rarely do I do so to many for outright imaginative purposes. Aside from the (at least) 2/3 to 9/10 percentage I cull before using, what I do keep is for illustrative purposes at least as much as for documentary ones, but my intent with my photos is always to show others how I see the world, not necessarily how the world exists in an empirical sense.Photos: My HDR 2

In my opinion, that was always the purpose of photography: even the most rigorous of news and docu- photographers have always only shown us what they choose, and are able, to shoot, and from their perspective. Heck, people were manipulating photographs (early “ghost story” and “fairy” photos, anyone?!) as soon as they could shoot them. Photos are no more concrete proof of Truth than are written or spoken words. Current politics and social interactions merely continue to confirm all of the above.Photos: My HDR 3

So last night I was doing my own version of HDR, wherein I meticulously hand-alter (albeit with digital tools) the light/dark contrast in various parts of shots to replicate what my eyes and brain do as I’m seeing the images live, and my live-in art critic commented on my play with the pictures. And then I showed him how, for example, the pictures I took while he was driving here through west-Texas and New Mexico storms this summer are ‘readable’ only after such an edit, and that if his eyes weren’t already making such adjustments on the fly he’d not have been able to see, headlights or not, to drive in such varied light as the storms make.Photos: My HDR 4Photos: My HDR 5Photos: My HDR 6

I know that when I photograph my own environment, I do so with constant awareness of my version of Clutter Blindness, too, which makes me not see or notice things that are constantly in my environment—until I’m recording that environment with my camera. What an amazing tool is the camera! But it’s only a tool, and the images we take with it only the things we’ve chosen to note or share in our own ways. I love seeing the world through others’ photos, artworks, and eyes; my reality is frequently shifted and enhanced by this interchange of ideas and experiences. But I’ll always think it’s best, whether in attempts at documentation and recording real-life happenings and visions or in entirely handmade and invented artworks, to look with my critical thinking and logical skepticism engaged, and know that what I see and what I perceive to be real are all as ephemeral and dodgy as the brain and heart can possibly make them.

Digital illo: Editing Digital Art [Rumpy]

Editing my own digital art is simply a more complicated version of what I do with photos in order to make them more like I “see” them in my mind’s eye. I’m pretty sure Rumpy would agree that no matter how well-meaning we may be, we are all bound to see things from our own perspective.

And the Earth Breathes…

Photo: Road RainRain. It’s been quite plentiful in North Texas this last year or so, which isn’t historically common. Certainly feels like a different place, whether the weather is on a truly new cycle or it’s merely a blip in the cosmic scheme of things, and my traveling-companion and I marvel every time we’re out and about at how strangely, beautifully green the region is for this time of year. It helps to take the edge off of the heat, as well, and I can’t help but smell that magical eau-de-vie perfume exhaled by the world when it’s rainy and feel renewed, myself. What a calming effect it has.Photo: The Grey that Leads to Green

I know that many parts of the world are being treated less kindly by the rains and getting swamped in floods, and hope that mother earth will find a balance that harms none, helps all to flourish, but can’t help being grateful for our gentler and more nourishing version of the weather thus far. Our road trip to Santa Fe and back in late July/early August not only provided further evidence in its proliferation of green and growing things along our route but treated us to the beauties of stormy summer skies and perfumed earthy air quite a few times, as well. While storms do bring their troubles with them, those that do kindly leave us unharmed are a magnificent show of power and spectacle and beauty beyond human invention and remind me to show my respect and appreciation for nature more often.Photo: Well-Fed Landscape

Petrichor
The scent is all; this haunting
fragrance takes, in perfect synchrony,
my breath away and gives it back again,
back in electric rush as though
I’d leapt from ocean’s-depths
straight into air again—
This moment, this aching, longing,
gorgeous spark
of miniature infinity, this marks the time
when I find myself renewed, reborn—
The atomized eternity
that I breathe in, that I
pull in through every singing, sharp
electron of my frame, makes me go racing
back into the origins of time—still
fleeting, pass through iron gates
to death, and just as suddenly,
burst forth and know the spangled joys
of present life again

***************************************************

Santa Fe Afternoon
(A Breaking Storm’s Baptism)
Ochre and indigo, shadows and fire,
and in the far-off pines, a chanting bird
insinuating secret things is heard,
then joined by other birds, whose hearts’ desire
Is that the fulsome, clouded, darkling sky
should soon release a feathered shaft its own:
the lightning, thunder echoing with groan
and shout, to rout the perching birds to fly,
For they all wait, as we, gravity-bound,
wait under porches’ purple-gloaming eaves
for when the rain shakes us out of the leaves
to chase again the richness of this ground,
For water always wakens us once more,
Resuscitating all with petrichor.

Photo: The Veiled Desert

Even in the desert, the earth rejoices when the sky lets down its veils of rain.

With this little photo-essay and pair of poems, I’m reflecting on those joys, but also giving you a little preview: my books #2 and 3 should be published in good time for winter gift shopping, whether you’re interested in giving something to someone else or treating yourself! One of the books is a second volume sharing additional adventures in Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking (or, MiKiFEMT-1), and the other will be a more grownup book of my poetry and visual images. Both in full color, this time. Not to worry, you can still get copies of that first book of nonsensical delights shipped directly to you any time you like, just by visiting good old Amazon online. You should have plenty of reading material handy in case the rain comes to visit again…

Photo: A Good Day for Reading

It’s always a good day for reading.

The Truth is…

Photo: We All Have Stories to Tell 2I am 100% honest and 90% transparent on my blog. But I write a lot of fiction, and I’ve been known to edit or doctor my work like crazy. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. Maybe it’s because the intent is never to mislead and deceive, only to get you thinking (differently, perhaps) or entertain you. Maybe it’s because my own thinking is a rare, if not unique, blend of optimism, idealism, pragmatism, logic, guesswork, paranoia, fear, distrust, problem-solving, hope, and magic realism. Maybe it’s only because I’m a big enough fool to believe that I’m being honest and transparent.

Maybe, though, it’s at least a reasonable assessment because I operate with the belief that anyone who reads my posts is clever or intuitive or discerning enough to tell when I’m inventing characters and storylines, when I’m being deeply sarcastic, when I’m illustrating for comical effect, and when I’m trying to be a straightforward documentarian. Even when I’m making up ludicrous fairytales and spouting jocularities while recording my own little adventures and misadventures, I trust my readers to imagine with me the underlying bits of fact, to spot the universal truths and throw out the chaff of willy-nilly silliness. Foolish? Oh, quite possibly. But I prefer to think I’m just cutting everybody the same slack I deserve, the assumption that we’re not adversaries trying to subvert or enslave or otherwise ruin each other but rather fellow travelers and potential compatriots on life’s wandering way.

By the same token, I expect others to grant me grace when I speak my views about the good and the bad in the world, about what I think are healthy and reasonable approaches to understanding and accepting differences and where I think it important to draw a line and say, I can’t accept that idea or action as having any positive or non-harmful purpose in a world populated with imperfect and fragile humanity. Anyone who can’t allow my opinion to go un-insulted is entirely free to leave the room. Press EXIT and don’t look back! But I haven’t had anyone feel the need to do so in a rude way, and that’s the blogging world I find worth operating in; when I go to sites and blogs, to Facebook pages or zines or any other sort of forum, whether it’s one that invites the sharing of ideas and conversations or it’s strictly a pulpit for one person’s views, I am glad to be free to come and go as I please and, if the topic is one that in any way displeases or bores or offends me, to quietly depart and leave the rhetoric to those engaged in it.

On the other hand, I know that there are many (including friends and loved ones) whose thinking and whose opinions and beliefs are so dramatically different from mine that I find it difficult to refrain from civil comments yet I hesitate to leave what I think are slanderous or libelous statements, patent falsehoods, or dangerously misinformed “Facts” and “Truths” standing without challenge, feeling as though I’m slinking off ignominiously and leaving a ticking bomb in the middle of a train station by not offering a clear counter-statement to it. It is not, however, in my nature to enter into debate, no matter how civil. I find it very hard to form and articulate my ideas in a way that I find satisfactory, and am easily cowed into silence by bluster or bullying from opposing viewpoints, so I nearly always tend to “let the Wookiee win” rather than engage in what I’m almost always certain will be not only a losing proposition as a discussion but ultimately, demoralizing for me. Mostly, I’m jaded by past attempts into sensing that those whose beliefs are both loudly and firmly held have no interest in hearing my point of view, let alone considering it as having possible merit.

I was struck by this yet again recently when I encountered a long string of posts from a casual acquaintance who took boldly opinionated stances on several different issues of politics, religion, and social policy that he not only conflated into all being essentially one large conspiracy of evil, crime-backed, world-destroying intent that just happened to, as far as I could see, implicate me personally because the nefarious network he was outing as so hateful included (by name) many people and organizations that I am convinced have quite different, if any, involvement in the acts and policies of which he accused them, and in most cases, act on and endorse things that I find hopeful, helpful, healthy, and humane. But I didn’t think there was the remotest chance he would be anything but dismissive and angry if I were to express the least of my views there. And I was equally sure that he would be hurt, mystified, and convinced that I am not only cozened by the evil empire he hates but probably a brainwashed agent of their horrible intentions of world domination and destruction. So I sit and suck my paws sadly and feel sorry that such divisive attitudes can just bulldoze me like a runaway tank.

It cheers me more than you might guess to return to my friendlier neighborhood here, to be able to speak my mind and show my little pictures where if anybody disagrees, they just share what interests them to share and move on. Where if they question my veracity or accuracy, they ask questions and/or offer useful corrections kindly and without reproach or personal attack. Yes, I make up all kinds of stuff and tell stories that have sometimes have more whoppers in them than any single Burger King franchise. But I never try to hide whether I’m talking sincerely or pulling anyone’s leg for entertainment.

Yes, I edit virtually every photo I post at least a little. But the very act of taking a photo is an editorial process: the photographer chooses what her audience sees, how much of it she sees, from what point of view, and so forth, before ever fiddling with the picture for further artistic or story-driven reasons. And further, in the instances when I’m not making digitally doctored artworks out of the photos for what I believe are fairly obvious illustrations rather than factual expressions, any alterations I do make are attempts to help the photos show what I saw and experienced rather than merely what my camera is capable of capturing and showing, at least given my paltry technical skills with it.

So I stick by my claim: I’m honest and transparent here. But it is my truth, my sense of clarity and my perception of reality that I’m sharing here. I know that nothing I say or do here will change the minds of any who disagree, nor will my posts save any little part of the world. If they save someone from a bad mood for a little while, that’s pretty good. If they somehow manage to make someone who does disagree with me think about what I might think or why, that’s pretty good even though I know my chances of changing a mind are negligible if any. And of course, I could be wrong. If all my posts do is allow me a dash of release while I exercise my creativity and try to suss out my own point of view a shade more clearly, that’s not such a bad thing either. If you’re still here keeping me company when the post is over, now, that is a fine thing indeed. And that’s no lie.Photo: We All Have Stories to Tell 1

Foodie Tuesday: Just Shoot Me (Said the Food)

No, my friends, I’m no longer feeling so terrible with the flu that the thought of even writing about food repels me; I am, I believe, fully recovered already. No need to bump me off. Whew! But my appetite is still slightly limited and my interest in slaving over a hot stove, nil.

Lest you be too confused by today’s post title, I am not making a personal request either to be executed or made into a photographer’s portrait subject. Not crazy about either idea. I’m also, for the record, not overly fond of getting shots (except for the knowledge that they usually are meant to help me be healthier), and I can’t recall ever drinking shots. All such nonsense aside, my teasing post title only means to tell you that I’m thinking about food photography and meal-time hunger and how incompatible they are.

Photo montage: First, Find Pretty Food

*SOOC*? Almost. Light-adjusted for clarity and slightly more accuracy, straightened if necessary, and cropped. But the foods were already pretty attractive. Hence, my firing off a shot or two, tossing the camera aside, and getting down to the real business at hand. Eating and drinking. Wouldn’t you do the same?

Left to right, above: Flavored honeys at the farmer’s market in Halifax; a cinnamon apple napoleon with vanilla custard and pomegranate glaze at an unknown restaurant in Seattle; a glass of Pilsner Urquell enjoyed near its ‘birthplace’ at a neighborhood eatery in Prague.

Pros don’t need tons of time or patience to suss out the situation, set their cameras on the ideal settings, frame the shot, take it, and abracadabra!, they’re done. Great art, now let’s get down to eating. So unfair. Of course, that’s arguable, because if I spent the time and effort to learn and train properly in how to use a camera of any sort, I might conceivably get decent enough skills to save myself a few frustrations, not to mention gut rumbles.

Fool that I am, I have always let my natural intimidation around all-things-technical (plus, admittedly, fear of a certain unpleasant would-be teacher in years past) scare me out of getting serious about cameras. I’m generally content to let the camera do all of the work for me, at least until I get photos onto my computer where I can play with them endlessly as artworks or, at the least, adjust them so they better fit my idea of what I saw or am trying to convey. Part of my artist persona has always been to edit, tweak, second-guess, and fiddle with images, so it’s not as onerous to me to figure out how to make a photo into what I want it to be—I’m far less interested in documentary accuracy and straight-out-of-camera [*SOOC*] “honesty” than in getting my story told. All photographs were, and are, still only images of what the photographer chose or was able to show us, despite the popular notion that they are “truthful” in ways that other visual forms of data are not. And while I like a Pretty Picture or a dramatic image, what I’m always in search of is illustration that enhances and furthers my storytelling, whether with words added or not.

As a cook, I am in the same category. I love to eat delicious and, sometimes, complicated foods. I enjoy goofing around in the kitchen and, occasionally, discovering something I can make that’s delicious or, rarely, complex. But the very idea of having good technical skills as a cook—never mind chef—is just as unattainable, between my aforementioned phobias and my laziness, as going pro with a camera.

The results of all of this? I blog about food; as an aficionado but never as an expert, I am limited in what I can tell you about food not only in technical terms but in how I show it to you. I shoot as well as I’m able, and if it’s really imperfect, touch up what I shoot until it’s at least marginally post-able. Then I use it. And I blather about what I do and don’t like, how I make dishes or fail in the attempts, stuff I like to eat when I’m out and about, new treats I’ve learned to adore, and other food-lust topics, just as though I had any business doing so. I happen to like documenting my foodly obsessions.

The other thing I do is try to learn along the way. Food tricks, perhaps. Learn from my mistakes. Photographic ones, mostly. Couple of things I’ve learned: find pretty foods to shoot (see above montage). Better chance of getting a good portrait, if you have a good-looking subject, whether conventionally beautiful or just wonderfully interesting. Use as much natural light as you can get. The food can be moved a little to catch the light better but the sun can’t be so easily moved to better suit the food. Don’t get fancy. The food’s already attractive—okay: or horrible, if that’s what I’m documenting, so it’s at least meant to be an interesting subject. No reason to do a lot of fussy setup and presentation extras, since I have limited supplies of tablewares and glamorous shoot venues, so I tend to pay more attention to details of the ingredients or go for a tight shot of the plate rather than overdo extraneous things.

That’s about it. Because, as I intimated in my opening salvo here, even the littlest bit of time spent on the photographic part of the posts is time taken away from my pursuit of eating. Digital cameras are a boon in this regard, of course. Fast, efficient, no waiting. My little old smartphone is helpful as well. As techno-dull as I am, I know very little indeed of what my phone can or can’t do, let alone how to make it do anything for me. But I know how to take the simplest of snapshots, and my phone camera knows how to send them to my waiting computer, and that speeds up the process just one helpful little bit more. So glad to get to the table faster.

Photo montage: Phone-to-Table Eating

The middle photo was taken with a regular point-and-shoot digital camera, and the flanking shots (a little later) with my cell phone camera. I think I’m getting incrementally better along the way. More importantly, faster to the table. Most importantly, the food tasted rather good. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Left to right, above: Zucchini frittata with salsa, olives, and crispy bacon; roasted chicken breast with guacamole and coleslaw; skillet-cooked steak and mushrooms with pan-fried  mashed potatoes, balsamic deglaze, tomatoes, and strawberries. All home cookery.

They were Just Talking

Digital illustration from a photo: They were Just TalkingI listen to the mourning doves that coo and call in the shadows nearby and think that they do indeed sound ineffably sorrowful. The low, guttural sounds they make seem to my ear quite melancholy and, no matter how musical, to convey a kind of tragic news that makes me wonder just what it is that they say to one another. In my mind, they are exchanging the saddest of sad information, a litany of lachrymose lugubriousness.

In addition, I fear that I don’t give them enormous credit for wit and intellect, so if you’ll pardon the expression, I suspect that what conversation they do have is probably akin to what we American human-types sometimes call pidgin English—any actual content of worth being marred by the lack of intelligible vocabulary and syntax. But, to paraphrase what someone wiser than I has also said, if pigeons are the arbiters of intelligence in the same way that we humans are when we assume ourselves to be the wisest and brightest beings in creation, then all other creatures will by default be found wanting. No wonder the pigeons deign to unload their critiques on the heads of our celebrated effigies in the park.

The truth, I imagine, is that mourning-dove conversation is no less and no more wise and scintillating than our own, at least in the context of pigeon society. Heaven knows that anyone who translated my quotidian chitchat into ‘pigeon English’ would probably be violating the Columbiformian (I just made that up from their Latin name, thank-you-very-much) Geneva Conventions by boring them to death with my inanity and my extreme dull-wittedness when it comes to where to find the best yucky trash to eat, how to maintain the pecking order in the flock, or why one must always look for the shiniest surface on an automobile for proper deposition of one’s automotive excretions. So no matter how tragic the tone of the mourning-doves’ vocalizing sounds to a mere humanoid like me, it could be that they were just discussing their plans for world domination and the swell soirée with which they intend to celebrate it.Digital illustration from a photo: They were Just Talking 2