Archive for January, 2008

No Hanging Out

There’s a review by Holland Cotter in today’s New York Times about a new show at the International Center of Photography called “Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art.”

Holland’s fascinating and glowing review has prompted me to see the show which runs from January 18 – May 4, 2008.  (I’m fortunate to live in such a beautiful, rural area with a 90-minute trip into Manhattan.) 

Holland writes: “Photography, with its extensions in film, video and the digital realm, is the main vehicle for these images. The time was, we thought of photographs as recorders of reality. Now we know they largely invent reality. At one stage or another, whether in shooting, developing, editing or placement, the pictures are manipulated, which means that we are manipulated. We are so used to this that we don’t see it; it’s just a fact of life.”

Of particular interest to me is this exhibit in the show:

“The thousands of images in a looping 36-hour slide projection by Jef Geys would seem to be linked by a firmer thread. They are a visual archive of Mr. Geys’s photographic output of 40 years. Whether they provide evidence of aesthetic development, though, or insight into the artist’s maturing mind and soul, will be known only to the most devoted of viewers.”

(Let’s see… the longest the museum is open on any single day is ten hours, and the longest anyone could realistically sit through a slide show might be three hours. So it’ll take at least 12 well-coordinated visits to see the whole thing!  With $12 admission, that’s $144, but an individual membership at $75 allows unlimited free visits.  Yay!)

Another exhibit in the show by Hans-Peter Feldmann sounds like a thoroughly intriguing study:  a room full of framed front pages of 100 international newspapers printed on Sept. 12, 2001.  To Feldman’s credit as an artist, and to Holland’s credit as a reviewer, both get past the fact that this event is still fresh to us and are able to raise all sorts of questions about image placement, text placement and the manipulation of content from country to country. 

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Jakey’s Gloves and Jacket

I recently recommended an inexpensive but excellent lens to Becky over at Moontree Arts:  the Canon 50mm f/1.4.  Becky’s just getting into the art of photography and it’s a superb starter lens.  But after talking with her, I realized I haven’t used my own 50mm lens since I bought the Canon 85mm f/1.2L (mmm, mmm good) in July 2006! So I put the 50mm back to work to rediscover its charms.

If you’ve sold your soul (and waistline) to zooms and wide angles over the years, or if you’re on a budget, a 50mm lens is worth thinking about. If you need a nudge, consider that Henri Cartier-Bresson used only his 50mm lens for everything from portraits to landscapes.  I think I understand why: the 50mm offers a highly personal view of what’s being photographed.

The great color photographer Ernst Haas said, “The best zoom lens is your legs.”  Why?  Because a fixed focal length lens like the 50mm gets you immediately involved:  you must be entirely conscious of your place and your angle because you can only zoom with your legs.  You must think about your composition with your mind and your body.  The result has a delicious and natural subjectivity, further enhanced at 50mm because that’s the focal length most similar to what we observe with our own eyes.  

A 50mm shot is a personal, physical view — the very voice of a photographer.  That seems like reason enough to use a 50mm lens, but its natural look gives the observer a direct experience as well, as if he or she was there when the image was taken.

Most 50mm lenses are pretty fast (f/1.4 – f/1.8) and relatively cheap.  The ability to shoot in low light with a gorgeous, addictive bokeh and a price tag under $300 make most 50mm lenses a great value for the money.

I should mention that if you’re shooting with a typical DSLR (the Canon Digital Rebel XT, for example) you’ll need a 35mm lens to get the effect of a 50mm lens because of the digital sensor’s 1.5x crop.  Using a 50mm on the Rebel will get you a 75mm view, which is the ideal focal length for portraits.

By the way, here’s a landscape and a dog portrait I shot with the 50mm on my Canon 5D last Sunday.  And the shot of Jakey’s gloves that accompanies this article was shot yesterday with the 50mm on the 5D.

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I love this story in Monday’s Morning Call newspaper.  Thanks to whomever notified the paper and thanks to the editor for running it. How often to you read news stories that offer hope for humanity?

Thanks to Donna Balascak for saving the neighbor’s animals, and thanks to Donna’s dogs for noticing there was a fire in the first place.

Last night I watched a PBS documentary called Dogs That Changed the World. It’s a fascinating look at how dogs evolved from wolves and how humans live better and more productive lives because of dogs.  With a sense of hearing four times greater and a sense of smell 50 – 100 times more powerful than our own, it’s easy to imagine how companion and working dogs extend our own survival abilities.  

Numerous studies show that companion dogs lower our stress levels and help alleviate loneliness.  Simply petting a dog for a few minutes prompts a release of  serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin – the hormones that cause us to “feel good.” 

I think we owe our dogs a lot of love and appreciation — and cookies!

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I’m going to write a screenplay using Scrivener software.  It’s going to take a few years to write, but that’s ok — it would take a decade with MS Word!

Let me know if you use Scrivener, or have an opinion on how it works.

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Bar Bar 

M & M Mars was born in a Tacoma, Washington kitchen in 1911 when candy salesman Frank Mars set his sights on making the best candy bar on the market.  He and wife Ethel made and sold chocolate buttercreams out of their house for nine years.  Locally very successful, they moved their business to a Minneapolis candy factory and by 1930, Mars, Inc. was grossing $800,000 a year selling Milky Way Bars and Snickers Bars.

(Snickers Bars were named after one of the family’s beloved horses and remain the best-selling candy bar of all time.)

Fast-forward: Mars is now ranked America’s sixth-largest privately held company with 40,000 employees and $21 billion in annual sales. (Green M & M, anyone?) Frank and Ethel’s grandson, Forrest E. Mars, Jr. , is a 75-year old retired CEO with a personal fortune of $14 billion (#19 on Forbes’ 2007 Richest Americans list). 

Despite the Mars family’s long-standing reputation for super-secrecy, Forrest made headlines this week as an opponent of an energy company’s plans to tap into a great American wilderness: southeastern Montana’s Tongue River area, which has extensive coal and natural gas reserves.  

Forrest resides in Virginia but owns an 82,000-acre ranch called Diamond Cross near the town of Birney, Montana.  The ranch falls under “split-estate” laws from the (perhaps outdated?) Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916 when the government gave 60 million acres of western land to ranchers, but reserved the mineral rights for itself.  It then leased the rights to energy companies.  

The government has rights to 10,000 acres at Diamond Cross — and a company called Pinnacle Gas Resources has the lease to drill for natural gas.

“Coal-bed methane development” is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground, and it starts in aquifers.  Huge volumes of water are pumped out and disposed of to get to the natural gas.  Forrest Mars opposes the development because Diamond Cross  is in an arid area and requires its water reserves for crops and livestock. 

Coal-bed methane development has put some ranchers out of business. It has also affected populations of wildlife like mule deer and antelope (where the deer and the antelope play!) and may put the sage grouse on the Endangered Species list.

Last Thursday, despite putting his fortune to work in several lawsuits, Forrest Mars lost his bid to keep Pinnacle at bay.  Pinnacle began drilling 90 minutes after a state judge issued a ruling that Pinnacle had a right to drill there.

Tom Richmond,  an administrator from the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, offered a solution to the situation: he said Pinnacle’s stock is worth about one percent of Mars’ fortune, so Mars should simply buy the publicly traded company.

What do you think about that?

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Rural Classified

Machine Shed

Can you determine a newspaper’s demographics by looking through the classified ads under “Articles for Sale”?  Here are some random things I found in today’s Morning Call, a newspaper that’s delivered to my house everyday:

♦ Console Radio / 8-Track Player, $95

♦ Couch (1970 Style), $20

♦ Exercise Machine, Push/Pull Type, $50

♦ Gossip Bench, $45

♦ Kids Pool Table, $50

♦ Shotgun, Like New, $250

♦ 16′ Swimming Pool, 5′ Deep, $50

♦ Man’s Woolen Irish Sweater, Size Large, $25

♦ New Moosehead Barlight, Wall Mountable, $55

♦ Old 4 String Tenor Banjo, No Case, $100

♦ Beer Can Collection, Over 175 Cans, $300

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Geese Over the Triangle

I was so taken with Nicole Atkins‘ performance on the David Letterman show last November that I unabashedly revealed my age by immediately purchasing a physical copy of her latest CD, Neptune City.

You can watch the video here.  Nicole’s band, The Sea, provided impressive backup with cello, violins, grand piano and jingle bells, et al, but Nicole’s voice was like the Southern Pacific Daylight during the Golden Age of Trains. 

Nicole has a gorgeous, strong, emotional and compelling voice that’s been compared with Cass Elliott, Loretta Lynn and Chrissie Hynde – even with Jeff Buckley, Roy Orbison and Rufus Wainright!  Some of Nicole’s songs have an other-worldly, carnival-esque, Brill Building-meets-Wilco sound to them.  I think of Lesley Gore, Connie Francis, Miss Lily Banquette – even Elvis Costello.  In a Rolling Stone interview, Nicole said, “My songs are dark, but you can still do the mashed potato to them.”

Nicole is a muralist by trade and studied painting and illustration at university. Her songs sound like richly colored murals, too. Listen for the stellar line, “In my ears my blood is just roaring.”

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