Leica

Memorial Day… Again?

This is a repost of the very first real blog entry (after Hello World!) on this website back in 2012. I was in a very bad place at that time. My best friend was dying. I was not good with that. I was in one of those places where a person has no patience for the simpering superficial bullshit people tell each other mostly to make themselves feel better about themselves.

And although I feel strongly (always) about the message of this post, I didn’t repost it the last few Memorial Days. I was probably in a better mood. This year though, with Memorial Day coming so closely on the heels of more gut wrenching domestic tragedies, and given everything else I see on the streets and read in the newspaper, I’m once again in a dark and unforgiving mood about my country. So fuck it.

Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ exposed much of the truth about America. We might have looked at that work and been properly shamed and sought to make a course correction. But we didn’t do that. Anyway. Enjoy this holiday. Don’t thank our troops. Remember instead the dead ones, and their wives, and their children, and their mothers, and their fathers. And forgive me for encroaching into sanctimonious behavior with a self-righteous attitude. I have no room to talk. It’s taken me over half a century to finally wake up.

Memorial Day

Cookouts. Barbecue. Hot dogs and hamburgers. Beer. Friends and family. Unofficial start of summer. Hell yeah! That’s what Memorial Day is all about. Right? Oh, and, of course, the Memorial Day mattress sale at Macy’s.

Then there’s those people who try to remind you of the more sober aspects of the holiday. Sanctimoniously thanking ‘our’ soldiers. Does that really stick with you or are they just as annoying as the people at Christmas telling us all to remember the spirit of Christmas and that Christ ‘our’ savior was born on Christmas Day?

So they had this event down at a new memorial in Irvine for service men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw it on the 11 o’clock news. The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial looks really nice and is said to be the first of its kind in the country honoring those who have fallen in the wars on terrorism we’ve been fighting for the last eleven or so years.

But they’ve got this open mic thing going. And the wives and mothers of those who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan come up to the mic and, if you didn’t see it, I’m telling you these women are just fucking raw. All are emotional but more than a few can barely get their words out; they’re just dying up there.

Blubbering women. Most of them young enough to be my daughter, if I’d had one. Talking about what they feel on Memorial Day.

While these women are stepping up to the mic, one at a time, to tell you the names of their husbands and sons and what happened to them – as best as they can between the sniveling and gasping and choked-off words – all over this country, millions of Americans are getting drunk, washing down burgers with Bud Lite, laughing the day away talking easily about everything that careless partying Americans talk about on a summer holiday together. Most Americans are having a good time, a welcome day off from work, celebrating the start of summer and vacation time – which is and always has been the real point of Memorial Day in our culture.

A really young woman steps up to the mic in Irvine. Her two hands are in a wrestling match with each other as she speaks.

“My name is Brooke Singer and my husband was killed in January.”

Brooke looks to be about 22. She’s wearing a pretty black dress with nickle-sized white polka dots and spaghetti straps that cut into the soft skin of her shoulders. She seems to have more to say but after that one solitary sentence she puts the back of her right hand to her face and unsuccessfully tries to stifle a sob. That hand has a mind of its own and, almost to conceal the degree to which it is shaking, Brooke drops it momentarily but then quickly raises it back again to cover her mouth, which is contorted in a way she’d obviously rather the entire world doesn’t see.

A girl who looks like she could be Brooke’s younger sister stands helplessly to her left. A woman who must be her mother puts her arm on Brooke’s back and whispers something into her ear.

If you need to be told at this point that Memorial Day isn’t about cookouts and really good shopping then I don’t know what to say to you except that you’re not alone. Not in my America.

But if you still think it’s about thanking ‘our’ soldiers and telling them how much we love them and appreciate what they’re doing for us then you really need to either wake up or grow up or maybe just look up the word ‘memorial’ in a dictionary.

If this country can ever find its soul again it will be on some hopefully not-too-distant Memorial Day. One day when enough Americans are finally able to look squarely and, maybe more than anything else, responsibly, at young women who can barely breathe as they muster the courage to stand in front of a microphone in a public square and somehow manage to choke out the names of their dead husbands.

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Film images made with a Leica M7 and 50mm 2.0 Leica Summicron lens.

The Democratic Forest: William Eggleston

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“Eggleston was in New York during the last week in October for the opening of a new exhibition of his work at the Zwirner gallery that runs through December 17. All of the nearly 50 images in the show were taken in the ’80s as part of a mammoth series called The Democratic Forest, which in its entirety includes some 12,000 images. But in the Zwirner show, for the first time, many of the images have been reproduced on a giant scale, some of them five feet across. Staring at them on opening night (and it is a measure of how Eggleston is idolized, particularly by the young, that hundreds of people braved a truly filthy rain to attend the opening), I thought, when you make a picture that big, there is no room for error, no place for a photographer to hide. And in this case, no need. You could put these pictures on a billboard, and they would lose none of their integrity.”

Source: William Eggleston: The Father of Modern Color Photography – The Daily Beast

What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Light

Apologies to Raymond Carver. Reposted from the early days of 50lux.com

Leica M9, 35mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX-M ASPH FLE

I think of the best stuff when I’m half asleep. It’s called hypnagogia and I’ve got a bad case of it. I’m not alone, apparently, as a New York Times article pointed out late last year and as Wikipedia establishes as encyclopedic fact.

Many other artists, writers, scientists and inventors — including Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton — have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.

I’m intending to capture some of these fantastic creative thought processes that trot through my mind when I’m half asleep for the purpose of bringing them back alive and showing them to the world here on 50lux.com. It won’t be easy. Not many things are when you’re half asleep. Nature of the beast. More on all this later. But let’s start off with an example from today.

There’s nothing more annoying than some snobby-sounding photographer going on about Light. I chase after the Light. I live for the Light! I’m always out looking for the Light. I’m a Light chasing stalker of the Light.

Light, that fickle temptress, has taken out a restraining order on me!

You know the type. Butterflies and rainbows all around them. They shoot Leica but, of course, they could do just as well, maybe better, with a piece of cardboard and a tiny hole punched in it for a lens.

Never mind too the 14-year old future supermodels that seem to prance through lush meadows all around them, stopping only for the occasional extreme closeup on the sun-speckled perfection surrounding bee-stung lips.

What does any of that matter?, the light snob would say. It’s all about the Light!

Okay, let’s go there. Because as annoying as these people are, they just might be on to something. Pictures might lie, but not that much when it comes to the role of light making a great picture.

First let me say that my goal here, because I want to help myself to be a better photographer, is to learn along with anyone who happens to be reading this blog. So that some day, some glorious sunshiny day, we might all be just as annoying to others as these people are now to us.

It is important to have goals. Let’s get to work on achieving them.

Leica M9, 40mm 1.4 Voigtlander Nokton

Think of the world not as a place made up of things or solid objects to be photographed, but instead as a place where light exists.

You see what I’m talking about when I’m talking about half-asleep thoughts? Thank you and good night, ladies and gentlemen. Let me repeat it.

Think of the world not as a place made up of things or solid objects to be photographed, but instead as a place where light exists.

Because light in an infinite number of variations certainly does exist in this world. It shines down upon, through, wraps around, bounces off, backlights, highlights, dapples, washes over, peeks through, reflects off of, illuminates, obscures, virtually everything in this world and all of that enters into our consciousness, or DOESN’T, which is what we’re trying to correct here, through our eyes and through our lenses onto the plane of film or sensor we’re using to capture it all for posterity.

Light has so many different colors and shapes and effects upon whatever it touches or is near that it’s far beyond the scope of this blog post to even go into any of that. And it’s not important for the ideas that I’m trying to solidify in my own creative mind to try to address any of it at this time.

This post here on 50lux.com is more about what we all can maybe derive or benefit from in the form of an internal tweaking of our perspectives on light as it exists all around us and in our photography.

The important thing to keep in mind about light is that it can be as easily photographed, and as easily sought out as a subject to be photographed as a flower, a snow-capped mountain, a beautiful woman, or anything else that people almost instinctively point their cameras at before hitting the shutter release.

As you probably remember, like me, from reading it somewhere, whenever you take a picture, you really are only photographing reflected light anyway. Why not make a concerted effort on light’s behalf?

So now try it! Go out and, instead of looking to photograph mere things, solid or liquid objects of the Earth, as an ongoing exercise for your photographic eye and mind look past all that stuff and look only for light, wherever and in whatever form that you find it. Take pictures of that light. Make pictures from it.

Leica M9, 50mm f2 Summicron-M

If you’ve ever asked yourself or anyone else what’s the best way to radically change how you see as a photographer, then this is what I would suggest. Stop looking for and at everything around you as subject-objects, and instead allow yourself to look for and see only light.

Forever?, you might be asking. No. And then again, YES! Absolutely. Because we are talking about change here and hopefully permanent change. Some of us are always looking to change or open up our vision as photographers.

For now I suggest maybe working without your camera and going through your day looking past objects and people that you would normally focus your attention on and trying to see only the light and thinking about what you’re seeing wherever you do find light.

One of the first things you will discover is how incredibly easy this all is. You’ll be surprised. The change will be immediate. Your nose, as a photographer, will start to rise up into the uppity upper air involuntarily as you yourself become yet another annoying light snob. Phrases like I seek light wherever I can find it will roll off your tongue with the same highbrow snobbery of Grace Kelly in a 1950s Hitchcock film.

Go for the light and don’t come back empty handed!

Leica M9, 40mm 1.4 Voigtlander Nokton

Urban Portraits