Hanging on for dear life during neck-snapping re-trajectories … or something


I feel like I’ve aged four years in the last four months.

One day I start the day with meditation. The next, I start the day in a full-on mental sprint. Gosh, I guess sometimes it’s a full-on physical sprint.

Today is somewhere in between.

My company, Wittefini, is busier than it’s ever been. My personal ambitions are occupying the hell out of my so-called free time.

This is good.

While I work most hours of my week, these hours don’t feel so “worky”. I’m doing what I love. It just happens to be billable to someone else.

The driving force of positivity in my life, my wife Tina, balances me. Even if I work all night, the next day we work out. Spend us time. Spend time together. Take our dog Talulah for a walk.

Our schedule is unlike anyone’s I know. There’s no clearly defined work schedule. There’s no right or wrong place to sit down and work. There’s no clearly defined free time.

I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. But I know it’s not completely awful.

Lately, my goals are to remain positive despite all the fucking chaos around me. Politics will drive a man crazy, and then some. Other people’s views will then send that same man to the edge of oblivion.

This “positivity” is no small feat.

I went through an angrier period a few years back. To me it wasn’t so much anger, as it was the swinging pendulum that I was riding at the time. I needed to let go of a lot of poisonous ideas and thoughts from yesteryear and I was confused and desperate to let go.

Anger to others was my inability to accept others failures.

Anger to others was my perception that all people strive for perfection, to make the world better, to be better people to their loved ones, to call, to nurture relationships, to want to be present.

Anger to others was my pervasive disappointment.

Negativity can be perceived by others in so many ways. I couldn’t and still can’t paint other people’s perceptions. I can’t control others ideas or responses. That much is true.

Declaring a state of “positivity” is basically admitting I’m not always positive and it’s a struggle to be so. It’s like god declaring you can have no other gods before him. We can only assume there are other gods that can be considered for the job.

My other ambition right now, that just may kill me, is to create more content.

Tina and I are, apparently, as barren as one of those landscapes on Mars.

Legacy takes a different form with me.

And while insecurity and self-doubt sometimes prevent me the idea I’ll reach the level of — say — notoriety that I might dream of sometimes, my ambitions seem to want to push me to try.

Do. Or Do not. There is no fucking try. 

Lately, my perspective is a concentration on Tina, Talulah, my cat Zoe, and being/becoming a role model, force of good, strong creative influence. I want to work with groups. I want to collaborate. I want to leave earth better than the way I found it.

And concentrating on negative and not doing something positive about it … that shit was killing my so-called soul.

If I could do it all over again, I’d likely do it all the same way, though.

Why?

I accept the way I’ve done this life recipe is right. I’m at the dinner table of all I’ve cooked, and I see what’s wrong, see what tastes can improve, and will cook the next meal marginally better until one day, most courses taste great.

For the first time in what feels like ever, I’m not concentrating on perfection.

This is big for me. Concentrating on perfection is creatively, mentally and physically paralyzing. It’s a preventer of all things artistic, loving, beautifying and doing.

I want to “do more.”

Be more.

Going at it alone is the wrong choice. There are very few successful artists, people in general, who found any level of success by their lonesome. And this idea banged me on the head several years ago, and now it’s just starting to make any sense.

So onward and upward with “doing more,” “productivity,” and “positivity.”

Shake it up and throw it on the barbie.

Let that shit rest when it’s cooked and serve it with a smile and a hug.

January Photo Challenge: Levitation


For 2016, I’m participating in a 12-month, theme-based photo challenge with fellow North Carolina photographer Sunny Lee and Chicago photographer and studio partner Bill Whitmire.

The first month theme is Levitation, and above is what I came up with.

The story behind the image is not exactly fleshed out. The image is kind of documentation in a way. You see, we’ve decided to leave our studio space for another one, and this is a way to honor our current space with a going-away hurrah.

We move into our new studio on February 1.

For this image, I worked with model Danielle Maddox. I’ve wanted to work with her for about a year now, and finally got up enough nerve to ask her to be a part of this project. I knew I wanted someone athletic, as the process here is having her jump in the air and land on an air mattress.

Plus, I love Danielle’s sense of humor that comes across in a lot of her work. She’s got that sassy, fun, somethin’ somethin’ that shines through, and I love working with people like that.

She really hit this one out of the park and was incredibly thoughtful in her approach. We landed the right shot early on which shows just how professional she is. Kudos to her and I can’t wait to work with her again.

I bought and used Atmosphere Aerosol for this shoot, but the way I did my lighting ended up overpowering it, so it doesn’t read in these images.

I lighted the scene using a large stripbox over head and some front fill and a light in the rear left-hand corner to embellish the sun rays.

I used our Hasselblad H3DII-31 with a  35mm f3.5, at f8, 1/800th, ISO200.

Below are behind the scenes photos taken by Bill Whitmire.

Attempting to document our world via vLog


Over the last few years, I’ve attempted to vLog a little. They’ve always been intermittent attempts to do some kind of behind the scenes or show a snippet of our lives.

When I slowed and basically stopped blogging here, it left a large hole in my, um, spirit, that I’ve since wanted to fill.

In November, I decided that I would produce a weekly vLog — at least — for as long as I can do it.

I’ve been somewhat successful with it, even though the vLogs themselves are far from “professional” video productions. They’re pretty gorilla really. Things I’d never include or do on a pro job, I let slide with these vLogs.

My goal, first and foremost, is to document my life as a professional photographer, a husband, and friend to about two people.:)

I’m not getting any younger. And as the years pass and I look back, the only road I’m paving comes in the form of work for clients with a spattering of personal work. But I’m absent in my own life, because my face rarely shows up in front of the camera.

In full transparency, these vLogs are incredibly influenced by YouTuber Casey Niestat. I’ve even lifted some of his approaches to telling stories from his playbook.

What I like about Casey is that he’s an incredibly creative and prolific content creator, but he does it in a way that’s true to his personality. Love him or hate him, he’s a positive guy and goes out of his way to present himself with a sense of lovable neutrality.

This blog certainly started as a divisive voice and it ended up dividing parts of my personal/familial life that I wished it didn’t do. It wasn’t that I wanted to be anonymous, but I also didn’t want familial interaction to influence my views.

My views regarding the supernatural remain the same. Those views are largely kept quiet except during short discussions with Tina.

Recently, Casey included a quote that means a lot to him. It was, “Never let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”

This is a perfectionist’s conundrum. When I release something to the world, I’m endlessly critical of it. I’ve had to learn, through my career, that nothing I do will ever be “perfect” per se and that when clients and others like something, it’s okay to let go of self criticism that leads to self deprecation, insecurities and even creative paralysis.

The way I see many creative people — including myself — is that they/we are paralyzed by fears and insecurities, even perfectionism. They have a zillion ideas and even criticize those who create, while their own work is minimal or prevented thanks to those fears.

I’m not sure any thing ever gets any easier in this regard.

My next goal is to really push my personal envelope. Put myself out there with more gusto. More Oomph. I think there’s a formula of likability + crazy that creatives must have to set them apart.

I don’t define that crazy as a pejorative. I think there’s good and bad crazy. It’s that je ne sais quoi of likability and anomalous something something. Or maybe I already have it and I just need to keep plowing forward.

 

The other reason I’m doing it is because I want to be a content creator.

I’d much rather make something for someone else to consume than to consume something.

That’s why I love cooking. That’s why I love photography. That’s why I love making motion pictures. That’s why I don’t like sitting absently in front of a TV.

I haven’t seen a movie in the theater in years.

That’s right. I haven’t seen Star Wars yet.

And it’s killing me.

If anyone is still out there, I’ll do my best to at least publish my vLogs here. Gosh, I miss writing as well.

Before I forget, Happy Fucking New Year, to you and you and you.

Let’s do this #2016.

 

Embarking into my forties never felt so good


Forty years ago today, I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in them United States of America.

Flowers were blooming. Choirs were singing. Swarms of bees were buzzing. Beautiful women were leaping for joy. Babies were hiccuping. Dogs were barking.

Cats were meowing. Children were scribbling in coloring books. Mothers were shopping in Sears catalogs. Fathers were dreaming of a way to contact women to have affairs without their wives knowing about it.

Trash was being collected. Beers were being drunk. A pair of lips tugged on a cigarette. LSD trips were took. Pot was smoked.

Wars were waging. Daughters were being sold into the sex trade. Animals were going extinct.

It was another day the earth was swirling around the sun. One star of zillions in this great big universe.

The pale blue dot gained a Puerto Rican, who would later be adopted into a family of Dutch heritage. He’d grow up, become a photographer, marry a beautiful woman and have to pinch himself every day for the good fortune of landing on two feet.

Forty years is a landmark. We measure life in lots of ways. We measure in meals, in naps, in time between meals and naps. We measure in snacks, in weight, in fat and distance. We measure life in seconds at times, others in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and and in times like this … decades.

In my first decade, my mind was getting packed with information, stimulation, and socialization. It was a decade of playtime, schoolwork, homework, Sunday school, friends, family, and wonder. My body developed from baby to pre-teen. The years were laden with discipline, pain, thrill, excitement and love.

I didn’t have one iota of an original thought that influenced anyone else. I believe that I had creative, original thoughts but I didn’t have the wherewithal to write anything down. Children are, quite possibly, the most creative people around us. I felt creative in those years. Sometimes I approach work with the idea that I must harness my first decade self in my approach to current projects.

In my first decade, I held a camera or two in my hands during that time. My second decade was filled with more play time, more homework, more Sunday School, church, religion, faith, friends. It was marked by wonder and creativity. I found a written voice and a visual one. I loved and lost a first love. I wrote, photo’d, video’d. I traveled.

I explored original thought, all of which were tainted and steered by religious thought, traditions, pangs of guilt and adolescent craze.

In my third decade, I was playing, traveling, trading faith for nonbelief, finding new friends, removing old ones, and wondering about what was next. I was succeeding and failing. I was both a rebel and not one. I was perpetually scared of letting others down. Individuality was an internship turning into a mediocre part-time job.

In my forth decade, I still played, I traveled more. I retired faith completely. Found more new friends and lost other ones. People my age were dying. I got married. And all the while, I constantly kept wonder in the mix. I tried making individuality a full-time job, but found it to be a disappointment to others.

And now I start the fifth decade. Today. Labor Day Twenty Fifteen. And wonder remains. Individuality still remains a mystery to me.

I’m inspired by all that’s behind me to create all that’s in front of me.

With another decadal notch comes a tinge more concern/thought about mortality. It inspires a sense of determination to create more. To seize the day’s seconds, minutes, and hours in a white knuckled grip and give everything, family, friends, creativity and love more of a crying chance.  To love more. To hate less.

Yesterday is an investment into tomorrow.

Without the promise of afterlife of any kind, it casts a different shade of urgency. Without an afterlife, there’s no casual dilly dallying like our dog Talulah when she’s in the yard smelling every stump, tree, patch of grass and pole. When you’re blessed with a creative spirit, there is a constant insistence on making new, then moving on to the next project.

My dad tells me often that I am part of a bigger plan. A divine one. And I understand where he’s coming from. And it pains me when I disagree, tacitly or directly. I don’t want to disagree with anyone. Not even a movie or music that someone else likes and I don’t.

But if a divine being had influence over how well things worked out for me, that same divine being ignored/hurt/maimed the thousands upon thousands upon millions who wished for the same, similar or safety, and came up short. Way short.

When I revel in a creative photo, I remember a child dying of leukemia.

When I bask in the success of a big paycheck, I think of the child sold into slavery.

When I hold the woman of my dreams, I can’t help but consider all who have loved, lost, and lost again.

This so-called divinity that watched over my life, stood by with crossed arms and a nose in the air when so many … so so fucking many — who probably even attempted to love this being — he ignored them, their prayers, their wishes.

Why would a being like that care about me? A guy who gives no mention, no thought to its existence or involvement. No thanks?

I guess — from some standpoints — you could call that the definition of faith.

But that would be mental gymnastics.

The way I see it, I got here by inexplicable luck. Maybe not inexplicable. I worked my ass off. I’ve worked my ass off. Over the weekend, I gave my photographer expertise away to a friend. The results were BEAUTIFUL. My pay is results. Money helps me keep a roof over my wife’s head, food in my dog’s bowl and litter in my cat’s box. It keeps gas in my tank so I can visit my family, whom I love and cherish dearly.

Art, love, life … they are my passions.

I love the process of the creative spirit. I love to create and be creative.

It’s the process, not always the outcome, that drives that spirit.

Without children of my own, the only legacy I have to create an afterlife is creating things that outlive me. Whether they are thoughts, ideas, images, motion pictures, or other art.

I feel good about my position. I feel good about my marriage, my life, my friends, my professional network.

I feel good about the art I’ve been creating, and the reception to it.

I feel good about my health.

I’m inspired by my friends and family. I’m reminded too often by the passing of my loved ones around me. And I’m goddamn determined to do everything I do as well as I possibly fucking can.

Hey, Forty! Let’s do this thing.

 

The reporter, the camera man, the shooter and you.


This news of the reporter and camera man shot in Virginia is destroying me.

Out of morbid curiosity, I watched the footage from the camera man and from the shooter. Unseeing/unhearing it is impossible. The shock, hurt, anger and confusion is heavy on my mind, like it’s wading through a mire.

Tina and I often interview people in a similar fashion (Tina’s not on camera like a reporter, though), and I can’t help but put ourselves in their shoes or visualize myself as them. When we’re doing that kind of work, we’re all about the moment and certain blinders prevent us from noticing a lot of periphery information.

I didn’t know these two people, but I can only begin to imagine the broken hearts, the pain, the tears of so many who loved these two dearly. As well as so many disappointed and appalled by the shooter’s actions.

I don’t entirely regret watching the videos. If you watch the one recorded by the shooter, he readjusts his camera zoom as he’s walking up. If that’s not proof that he’s entirely cognizant of his intention and goal, there should be no discussion of this man’s sanity.

Although, the word is he’s now dead.

From what I heard about the 20-some page manifesto he faxed to the station, he was upset by the way he was treated at work. He cited details regarding racial tension in his workplace.

And maybe, if I interpret this correctly, maybe these two people — the reporter and/or the camera man — were guilty, or purportedly guilty of what he saw as poor treatment in the workplace.

And maybe, if you stretch your imagination, can you empathize with the shooter for feeling like he was somehow mistreated, racially or personally.

It’s the violence that’s pathetic. It’s not dealing with the situation with tact and appeal. Has it come to this bullshit that the only way to be heard is to fire a gun?

I hate violence, and a lot of the news of different shootings in the past few years and even in my neighborhood have caused me to attempt a certain heightened awareness of my surroundings when walking my neighborhood. It’s likely futile. How do you see what’s happening behind you.

Should I constantly spin while walking? 

Another thing that’s completely appalling to me are all the people who say they’re praying for the victims, their families and those involved.

Praying? Really?

Who is that helping?

Where were the prayers before that prevented this shit? Who are you praying to and who feels better when they say that stuff? It’s not the victims or their families and friends. They’re fucking miserable right now.

Who is the god that is prayed to that knew this was going to happen and was powerless to intercept this shooter? What all-powerful god is this who is incapable of destroying the evil in the world? This fucker can create a universe in a week, but he can’t stop an angry man with a gun from shooting two people in cold blood while doing their life’s work? While doing their art?

If that’s what prayers are for, or to, I don’t want anything to do with it, and don’t understand EVER why anyone would.

My birthday is coming up. My one wish, as I blow out my candles, will be for people — unless it’s with a camera — to stop shooting other people.

Where the fuck did Jeremy go?


I’m almost 40. This September I cross that age threshold. That makes 20 years of non-belief.

My level of non-belief ebbed and flowed for a long time before I finally came out of that closet and eventually started this blog. During my closeted years, I searched for liberal views that were more accepting of my completely changed view of “god”. I tried to embrace different euphemism. That’s to say, when I said god, I meant me. When I prayed, it was to the universe, to nothingness, because sometimes that’s all that hears our hopes.

Why am I writing all this?

I don’t know.

Creatively, I feel like I’m producing more work than I ever have in my entire career. Not only is it more work, the quality of work has never reached this level. I feel I have so much more to learn. But I’ve also never felt like the work I’ve done in the past ever meant a good god damn.

But as an artist, I have never been as deathly afraid to share my work as I do now. When I share work now, it’s forced. I’m marketing, because, well, if I don’t, my business may suffer.

A few months ago, two different clients criticized some of my work and double-handedly created a sense of insecurity in my head that I can not shake.

I haven’t blogged in goddamn forever. I know. Not here anyway.

Between business, a decline in blogging motivation, and that WordPress now requires that I pay an annual fee to house digital media, I felt the need to back off of blogging at Le Café.

I miss you guys. I miss you all a lot. This blog had reached hit counts of over 30,000 to 35,000 per month.

This blog descended from one defined by my expression of non-religious beliefs to one centered around my day-to-day work and art, which caused a rift between loyal readership to a drastically declined one. This was something I did to alleviate the stresses I started to feel regarding my conservative-Christian family.

I chose family over fans. Morally, you’d think that was the right choice. 

You’d think that, wouldn’t you?

My family reads this blog — or at least used to — and I came to a conclusion that blogging about atheism created a larger rift between my family and me.

So I dialed it back. Way back. And then stopped.

I stopped to encourage a healthier, more productive relationship with my family. And at times, it seems to work. Other times, not so much.

Before all of the blog changes, I stopped any direct atheistic or liberal expression Facebook. I even told my family that it was the reason for backing off. I hoped it would encourage a reciprocated effort. It hasn’t.

Oddly enough, with certain family members, I feel it’s worse. And there’s a part of me that wants badly to divorce myself from the entirety of all that. It hurts too badly to continue, and I am finding myself somewhat close to what’s termed as one’s “wit’s end.”

I stopped believing around twenty years old. I don’t think I’m right about atheism. But I don’t think religious people are right either. Atheism is the closest mindset that reflects my views.

If you need someone to criticize atheism, give me few hundred thousand words and I’ll give you a great breakdown.

And that’s the same for religion.

But I can write a zillion words to back either up. Either. That’s the rub. I can defend religion just as well as I did as a teen. Why? Because I get it. At least I think I do.

That’s pompous.

I know.

Again, why am I writing this?

I’m at my wit’s end for sure.

Another reason: last week I heard a raucous out front of my condo. We’re on the third floor, and when I looked outside there was a police cruiser, an ambulance and a fire truck.

A group of people were out front, and one of them was my next-door neighbor Natalie. “I’m going to go down and see what’s up,” I called out to Tina. “Natalie’s out there, too. Just curious what’s up.”

When I exited my front door, I saw my neighbor with other folks just in front of our fence and neighbor’s fence to the south.

At first, I thought they were looking at something across the street. When I got closer, though, I could see paramedics were surrounding a man lying down on the sidewalk. Seconds later, one of the paramedics started chest compressions on the man. Another group of paramedics were wheeling a gurney from the ambulance to the sidewalk.

There were some six or seven people attending to man.

Once they got him on the gurney and into the ambulance, my neighbor and another man informed me that they had discovered the man slumped in front of the fence, and that when Natalie — a nurse — felt for a pulse, she could feel a faint one. Then she felt nothing. Seconds later, the paramedics came.

They took over.

The man died on the sidewalk. He was in in his fifties. Looked a little over weight. Gray hair. A dirty t-shirt and shorts.

He lived with two dogs in a building two doors down. I had never seen him before.

He died on the sidewalk.

Right in front of my building. Wait, right in front of me.

Seeing this certainly sparked thoughts of mortality. Of revisiting the ideas of heaven and hell, of afterlife. It caused me to review my perception that none of that exists. It caused question.

I think about religion — and my place outside of it — more than any other topic.

And the questions did not overwhelm my view that neither exist. And that doesn’t depress me.

What depresses me is that it’s this kind of thinking that might cause division between my beloved family, my loved ones, my life.

But I have to be okay with it. Right?

I mean, I feel much more at home in the thought that this life is it. That’s all. And soaking up the experience takes priority, rather than the idea that I’ll have eternity to cherish my loved ones.

It creates a wildly oppressive fear of not being an all-around decent person when hanging out with my believing family. It means that I stuff back thoughts and ideas for the sake of the whole. But damn does it hurt when those types of values aren’t reciprocated.

Who me? Officiate a wedding? What the fuck. 

One validating moment, though, was two weeks ago. I photographer friend asked to visit with Tina and me. He’s soon to be married. Usually when these kinds of things means you are going to read or stand up.

But the request for for Tina and I to officiate the wedding. Tina, because she represents spirituality for the bride. And me, because i represent skepticism for the groom.

My views have become much more private. And I feel it’s hurting me. Or at least part of me.

But it feels so damn good to be appreciated for my views. This is the highest honor. Marriage is so important to me. It’s the best thing about life and I wish I would have married much younger. Much sooner.

This scenario deserves a stupid metaphor. My life is a game of poker. Sometimes it’s a shitty hand. Sometimes it’s a royal flush. And it’s sometimes everything in between.

I’m up when I’m in my element here in Chicago; doing my art, cooking for Tina, being a husband, a friend to many, and an asshole to others.

And that’s worth everything to me.