Wading through the slushy mire that is this current political climate as a photographer desperate for creative expression and acceptance


Surely I’m not alone.

The current political climate is overwhelming if not crushing at times. Since about March of last year, I’ve found myself in a state of desperate need to express myself artistically, but failing because I keep reaching to check the pulse of what’s happening in my country.

Instead of designing a new photo or video project, I’m surfing websites obsessing over political bullshit that maybe I shouldn’t. This obsession is becoming a distraction.

I’m particularly pointing to the idea that I’m not doing personal projects. The guilt from not doing these projects presents itself as an overwhelming sense of personal failure. When I compare myself to other artists being productive, I suffocate from the vomit in the back of my throat.

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It’s forever Caturday


Yesterday evening, we said goodbye to our beloved kitten companion of 17 years Zoe Ann Witteveen Serafini.

She died at exactly 6:30 p.m. February 4, 2017.

The hurt from this loss stands alone as a pain I hate more and more with every passing second.

Zoe has been sick for a long time, probably longer than we could ever understand. She started yowling at night at least two years ago. And for a while, we thought it was her being a big jerk. And over time, I came to the conclusion that she was actually in pain. She wouldn’t want to tell us about the pain, but I thinks she went deaf as well. And she probably didn’t realize how loud her calls were.

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Arkells Rock! And so do you!


Arkells perform at JBTV Music Television on January 23, 2017

Last Monday, I photographed a portrait and part of the performance with the band Arkells at JBTV Music Studio.

From Wiki:

Arkells are a Canadian rock band, formed in Hamilton, Ontario. In 2006, they signed with Dine Alone Records,[1] and have since signed with Universal Records Canada.[2] They have released four albums, two EPs and a number of singles that have charted in Canada. The band has won multiple Juno Awards, including one for their album High Noon in 2015.

As I photographed their sound check, I could tell these guys were super cool, very talented and definitely entertaining on stage. They were cool to meet in our quick photo session backstage and were complimentary of my camera gear.

They did not disappoint the crowd that showed up on their lunch breaks to catch the intimate show.

If you happened to miss them, check out anything you can find online and grab tickets next time they pass through Chicago or your town!

Arkells perform at JBTV Music Television on January 23, 2017

Arkells perform at JBTV Music Television on January 23, 2017

 

Arkells perform at JBTV Music Television on January 23, 2017

Whelp, there’s always a New Year to magically change into something you weren’t last year


I saw this quote at Kottke.org:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

Attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but was actually written by screenwriter Eric Roth for the film adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

If it’s any consolation or a pinch on your tuchis, Mr. President Elect Donald J. Trump probably read the same quote a year or two ago when he decided to run for office. It’s never too late to become president, an entrepreneur, a nurse, a doctor, a professor … or merely a better person.

The quote is a little long for a bumper sticker; but it’s about the same thing. “It’s never too late to be the You you always wanted to be!” These kinds of quotes definitely start hitting harder at the beginning of New Years. As if a New Year is when a person will magically change all there is about themselves and blossom into the person they just couldn’t quite become in 2016, or 2015, or 2014 … et al.

I have found myself ruminating on the idea that I can become someone I wasn’t last year or the year before. I don’t fall for it. It took a long time to get here, and I’m still forward moving … at least I hope anyway.

In my case, the person I want to become is a successful photographer with big budget projects, hot clients, and to let go of any shitty clients or work that doesn’t make me happy or satiate my creative spirit the way I supposedly think it should be.

I can’t help but be a bit cynical about success. I struggle with jealousy of other creatives, and often get angry rather than happy for other people’s successes.

I saw a quote attributed to photographer Chase Jarvis that said, “Play the long game. Be patient and know it takes time [to fulfill your ambition].” I saw it at fstoppers with other advice like:

The people you follow have been doing the above for years, and that’s why they have huge followings.

Don’t get me wrong. I have heard of people — and watched other creatives or photographers — do Lamborghini 0 to 150,000 MPH in what seems like a couple nano seconds. And I seem to examine my own path and it seems like I’m accelerating on the back of a turtle riding a snail, whose been cooked and served at a cheap French restaurant.

I have this conversation with our studio partner and one of my best friends Bill who shares that sort of cynicism about other photographers who seem to go from being an accountant to holding classes on how successful they are as a fashion photographer in less than six months.

There seems to be nothing more annoying than watching photographers post their asses off on social media hoping to garner respect, accolades, attention and new jobs. In its defense, social media is an amazing vehicle for artists. And like everything, it’s up to the artist to determine his or her involvement on social media.

I always keep in mind that social media is a deceptive front. I was at a dinner recently with seven other creative people, and the one person at the table I thought was the most successful and most creative talked about how difficult running her business is and how creativity plays such a minor role in her day-to-day life.

I’ve found that for years. Creativity is not a day-to-day luxury, and maybe … just maybe … anybody trying to tell you otherwise is fucking with you like an evangelical telling you that “the good news Gospel” is actually “good news”.

I lust over creative expression, but the time to do it is devoured by running my business. New Year’s only mean it’s time to get my paperwork together to send to my accountant. And start a new year of wondering if another client will commission me for my talent.

This last year, I failed at a few things. One was a themed monthly photo project. I stopped after six images. I also failed to continue vLogging, which I did several. Just didn’t keep it up weekly like I had hoped. I also feel that I failed to pick myself up after falling down and wiping myself off. Perhaps I got caught in the thought that, “I’ll start another creative side project again next year.” I’m not sure.

There are several keys to creativity. The main difference between a creative and, let’s say, everyone else is: ideating concepts and then executing them. It’s the follow through that sets folks apart. For me, the process of creating art is as important as the result. Quite possibly the hardest part is chipping away at the process that could take five or ten minutes or several long arduous weeks.

Fortunately, last year wasn’t all failures. My business has grown year over year since the economy tanked back in 2007-08. We worked with new and old clients that are certainly hiring us for the quality of our work. Also, I made great strides with pushing myself to a healthy equilibrium through diet and exercise. It’s not quite where I want to be, but it’s one of those on-going projects. Exercise is an investment. It’s playing the long game. I’ve also spent more time meditating than before. I do mind-calming exercises. I repeat mantras and concentrate on my breathing more. When I run long distance, I try to let my mind go blank. Or I repeat “Creativity” or “Calm” with every other step.

Twenty seventeen is a continuation of the long game, but I hope to introduce concrete creative experiences that help me grow and to keep chipping away at the same old same old that I was doing last year and hope to continue to do going forward.

Let’s do this!

 

Ode to my beloved Tina


Yesterday was my wife Tina’s birthday.

Happy Birthday, Tina! I love you yesterday, today and tomorrow times a million! 

We booked an interiors shoot yesterday. And by “we” I mean Tina. But we were thrilled to have it. It’s a new client and we’ve been wanting to work with them for some time.

It was our last job of 2016. But booking it distracted us from celebrating Tina’s big birthday yesterday. This sounds completely cheeseballs, but we don’t like to leave our dog Talulah and our cat Zoe for too long at a time, and the thought of coming home, dressing up and going out for a celebration dinner was too stressful.

We decided that today would be a better day. So we’ll celebrate with a dinner out this evening.

Let me be clear on something, Tina is my everything. Without her, I would probably be committed. I don’t know what I would do. We spend almost every second of every minute of every hour together. I love her with so much of my heart, there’s hardly room for anybody else (Sorry, Jesus!).

Yesterday, I took a huge risk and kept from delivering a sappy Facebook Happy Birthday birthday wish dripping with love and affection for a few reasons. Mainly it was because I didn’t feel I had enough time to dedicate to it, and sloppily writing something for the sake of just doing it, didn’t feel right to me. My day’s creative juices were dedicated to performing on site for our job. Impressing the client stole my creativity for the day.

But this morning, I woke up with a new sense of guilt and frustration for letting yesterday slip by without devoting a thoughtful, love-laced dedication to my beloved wife and partner who inspires me, wows me, attracts me, thrills me, and completes me.

While still in bed, my thoughts went to my lovely angel and I looked over in the pale light and felt a pang of happiness. I thought I would write that sappy birthday dedication here, on this social media. For all to read. And for all to see.

I will call it, Four Things I love about My Beloved Tina.

  1. Tina’s Energy. There’s an energy that revolves around Tina that is unmistakable. It’s not on all the time. But when it is, it’s as attractive as any painting or art you could think of. On jobs, I wonder if they hire us or hire Tina. I think it’s more Tina. Sometimes when she sees me, she squeals with joy. She hugs and dances and laughs. When she wakes up and plays with our dog Talulah, it’s like the first time they’ve ever met and they play and laugh and bark and carry on. When she sees Zoe,  her heart sings and she scoops her up and cuddles her. When she’s alone in another part of our condo, she often sings to herself. This alone makes me swoon. Tina keeps a perpetual child-likeness. That’s to say, she expects everyone to be as kind as she is, and is often like Will Ferrel in Elf when he experiences that people aren’t.
  2. Tina’s Beauty. Tina’s a woman who stole my heart from day one. Her creativity often is embodied in her appearance, her choice of makeup and clothing. The way she does her hair. She often doesn’t realize it. Or she does, but she’s not always told. She expresses herself in what she wears and how she appears. I LOVE that about her. When we were dating, we went to a couple’s therapy group on the recommendation of one of our work mentors. We were one of the few couples in the room who weren’t there as the last step before their divorce. When other couples were asked to sit and stare into each others eyes for only a few minutes, they failed. We could do it like young lovers, unending and willfully. We still can. Our love life is better now than when we were dating. Perhaps it’s that and my perspective on love that keeps me head over heals for her. And I get to see her beauty every day, all day, and it makes me forever grateful and happy. One thing I’ve given a lot of thought to is the idea of sic transit gloria (or glory fades). And as our body’s grow older and our physical appearances change, I find the need to consider what that means for our love affair. My personal goal is to follow the leadership and example of all those couples who have seemingly stayed in love their entire lives. I anticipate it realistically and hope to understand it. Luckily, Tina’s beauty courses through her entirety of person. And my love for her is not strictly physical. Luckily, my heart pounds every time I see her. It’s like every day is my birthday. 
  3. Tina’s Conditional Love. You read that right. Conditional. None of that un-conditional bullshit. Tina’s a realist. I hope we both are. Our love for each other is holy-shit amazing! But thankfully it has conditions. I can’t just do anything, say anything, act the fool and expect Tina to be standing their naked offering fellatio for treating her like a bag of cat turds. I can’t treat Tina like Talulah’s diarrhea and say, “Whelp, you’re supposed to stick with me … we’re married … GOTCHA!” Growing up, I was taught and I thought love should be unconditional.  But there was a day when I realized that love has conditions, no matter what human (or deity) it’s coming from. Love should have conditions. It should be kept accountable. It should be malleable and open, but it should also make sure that anarchy is the worst form of love. One should dedicate empathy to it, but not mindless all acceptance. The day we go unconditional, the day we have to consider parting. I believe that it’s conditional love that promotes devotion to building our relationship, investing in it, watering it to grow and flourish. I love that.
  4. Tina’s Balance. No exaggeration, Tina has it all. She’s got a big personality at times, the most soothing and several beautiful idiosyncrasies between. In room full of family, Tina can put any Italian to shame by being the loudest person to get her story in above the cacophony of overpowering chatter. In a quiet room cuddling on the couch, she can calm a storm with her voice, her touch, her essence. She’s like a cat that purrs you to quiet your mind and find a zenful place of tranquil thoughts. She is grace. She is mercy. She is thoughtful. She is honest. She is emotional. And she is strong.

To Tina, I raise my glass, my candle, my voice.

When we’re down, we work together to ameliorate our woes. When we’re up, we are what the internet would consider viral. Viral to me anyway, because I have to “love” it every time I take another look.

Tina, I love you. Happy Birthday. Although belated. Forgive that. I hope. I needed time to properly devote a creative word dance to your importance in my life. To your energy, your beauty, your conditional love … and that your balance creates equilibrium for me, our family and our world.

Tina, je t’aime.

 

The power of equality, sex magik, twenty five year olds and you


Twenty five years ago, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which included the popular, radio-played tracks “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away.”

I recently added a couple of songs from the album to my workout playlist, and glory day memories are flooding back into my mind each time one of those songs comes on.

At the time the album came out, I was a sophomore in high school. The same year my brother Jon asked me learn the bass guitar and start playing in his band Creamy Velour.

As I learned, I naturally drifted toward inspiration from those who are doing it better. And bassist Flea quickly became one of heroes when I was learning bass.

I listened to Blood Sugar Sex Magik on repeat for days if not months. I loved every song on the album, and would finger the bass rhythms on my knees, or steering wheel, or wherever. I wanted to learn to slap and pop. I practiced for hours on ideas that I thought were very similar to Flea’s abilities.

Back then, however, I was also astoundingly in love with Jesus and my faith, and many of the lyrics challenged my faith, especially those sexual in nature.

The mention or topic of Sex — especially from a secular source — could single handedly twist my psyche into a guilty sweaty mess. Where I come from Jesus was literally everywhere. Teachers, parents, leaders told me he was “omnipresent” (everywhere at the same time) which supposedly should cause calm and security. It meant you’re always protected.

Omnipresence also became a large reason I dumped the faith.

If God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit is everywhere, that means when a child is dying of leukemia on a hospital gurney, those three fuckers are standing there watching him or her suffer.

People trapped in a burning building. Those three are there. Laughing? Crying? Maybe. But they’re definitely impotent.
A man running down hundreds of people with a truck in Nice, France, those three were there. Watching. Arms crossed. Impotent.
A black man became our president … hey wait, those three were there. Fist bump. Wiggle fingers.

Omnipresence to an adolescent meant Jesus did everything I did.

Brushed Teeth.
Played Soccer.
Did homework.
Masturbated.
My Buddy Jesus.

He also listened to the same music I did.

One song, “Sir Psycho Sexy,” I could repeat the lyrics to … up to a point … and then I’d stop. I figuratively shoved my index fingers into each ear and hummed, “Lalalalalalala!!!”

Here are some lyrics from the second verse:

Deep inside the garden of Eden
Standing there with my hard on bleedin’
There’s a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen
Good God no that would be treason
Believe me Eve she gave good reason
Body looking too good not to be squeezin’
Creamy beaver hotter than a fever
I’m a givin’ ’cause she’s the receiver
I won’t and I don’t hang up until I please her
Makin’ her feel like an over achiever
I take it away for a minute just to tease her
Then I give it back a little bit deeper

Can you imagine me, singing “Standing there with my hard on bleedin'” arm in arm with Jesus as we swayed back and forth?

To a 16 year old Christian, that shit was a train wreck. In one moment, you’re singing along. In another, you’re hoping no one else knows how well you sing a long. Even with headphones on — and no one but Jesus could hear the lyrics — the power of guilt overwhelmed me. But Flea’s bass lines were too important not to listen to. And there was my struggle. The utilitarian thought that there was a greater good involved.

I’ve long since given up on Jesus. It’s a concept that doesn’t work for me. I’m not really sure how it works for anyone, but I get it at the same time. As an insider, I thought it was the best, and told many about it, and brought several to similar beliefs.

The transition away was largely thanks to conceding that my life was much more secular than religious. The concepts and ideas that drove most of my decisions weren’t Biblical logic or informed by Biblical ideas. Biblical ideas aren’t very clear and they certainly aren’t advisable for modern living. For example, marriage is a confusing mess in the bible. And if it weren’t for observing my grandparents grow old together, watching my gramps take care of my gram in sickness and declining health, I would have never understood the importance of marriage. I would have likely lived single my entire life.

Or race. Race in the bible is a tough one. At one end, you have one culture enslaving another. And when the Jews were enslaved, that sucked. But when the Jews enslaved others, okay! You have God’s approval of enemies made of Jews versus everyone. Or everyone versus the Jews. Slavery was okay. Bashing babies against rocks, thumbs up! And then you have Jesus, entering the world from heaven through a magikal birth canal. He commanded to embrace other races, other cultures, other ideas, the downtrodden, the assholes, the sick, the poor, everyone.

It’s those little commandments of enemy love, equality and forgiveness that also informed my decision to evaluate and evacuate the faith.

I knew the bible better than most people, I scoured it for answers to my often debilitating questions, and was surprised by others insistence that the God and the Bible were clear, not confusing, and never inconsistent.

The power of equality.

The opening track on Blood Sex is called “The Power of Equality.”

In my teenage years, I would have told you that’s what Jesus taught and thought. But if you observe the current zeitgeist among religious folks, equality isn’t for everyone. It’s only for like-minded folks with a penchant for saying, “We get on our knees for Jesus.”  You’re free — but only free to think exactly like us about the economy, race superiority, abortion, gay marriage, and whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” or not.

The lyrics from the song go:

American equality has always been sour
An attitude I would like to devour
My name is peace, this is my hour
Can I get just a little bit of power

The power of equality
Is not yet what it ought to be
It fills me up like a hollow tree
The power of equality

What was great about growing up in the Bible belt, in an above upper middle class neighborhood and attending an evangelical private school, it was a constant white out. White was everywhere. There were two black people in my my class during certain periods of my school career. But for the most part, our ability to stay away from any people of color was easy.

One time at the mall, there was a wall devoted to posters depicting history lessons created by local school children. My Dad and I were staring at the wall when he said, “Notice there are no black kid’s names on any of the work.”

I stopped and looked at him, and stared back at the posters. There were three — what I would consider obvious — black names. I pointed it out. There was silence.

I’ve never forgotten that moment. And it returns for many reasons. The names of the children weren’t even on my radar. I was probably critical of the art or materials used. Or looking for any inaccuracies. But that was the height of some of my experiences that read even remotely like racism.

I mean, I saw little bits of racism here and there. My first job was at a little sandwich and ice cream shop. My boss Hubert scheduled me four times a week; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was the only white guy working with another black busboy, two black waitresses, a black dishwasher and a black cook. With my Puerto Rican blood, the sun darkened me every summer to a deep brown and more than once I was asked of I was black. I have big hair and I’m cool, so I figured that played a role.

But I’d see racism at work between our boss and my coworkers. My Tuesday and Thursday coworkers weren’t treated as well as the Monday, Wednesday and Friday staff.

You also saw a bit of racism in the way customers were perceived. If a black family sat inside at a table, waitresses wouldn’t take good care of them, because they either don’t tip or don’t tip more than change. It was a stereotype, but even my black waitress friends knew it and loathed it.

Percentage wise, you saw more black customers come to the counter for takeout.

But the level of racism I experienced and observed wasn’t anything to shake a stick at. I was nonplused by it. A word here. A phrase there. I heard of racist acts and may have heard some racist locker room talk, but I was taught to raise the bar of public discourse, so I either spoke out against it or quietly moved on if it wasn’t worth my time.

I also blame my bubble, though, for not being able to perceive racism. When O.J. Simpson was on trial, my little pathetic excuse for a brain and for education was completely naive to the entirety of the race issues in the United States.

I largely thank my experience abroad in France for opening my eyes a little bit to being able to decipher racism and how it exists. I mentioned above that I tan well. In France, I looked a little bit Mediterranean and a lot Arabic. The woman who housed me called me, “un Arab” or “l’Arab.” To my face. It was the first time I witnesses nationalism on a French vs. Islam scale.

Though, it wasn’t until I moved out of the south that I saw racism and violence in this country. In my 20s, I was in a bar in Chicago one night and some construction guys started a fight with some of my black friends from work. The racist slurs these white guys were throwing broke my mind. City life was supposed to be anything but racist. 

But these white guys were punching for dear life at my friends because they thought race was a reasonable factor to start beating on strangers in public.

The long and longer of it

I could go into far greater detail about other forms of inequality. As a recovering evangelical, I had to move far to overcome thoughts against homosexuality and all kinds of diversity. I didn’t realize how much of a racist I probably was and still am thanks to an upbringing of white, male privilege. And when all you get to do is be all white and privileged, most people never realize what white privilege actually means. I can only thank summers of tans and the occasional odd look or unkind word for even a smidgen of understanding.

I’ll wrap this post up with a cut and paste of more lyrics from the “Power of Equality” song. Or listen to it above or here. This song was 25 years ago. Current public relations show that we are no further forward, if not years backwards. And it hurts my head.

Right or wrong, my song is strong
You don’t like it, get along
Say what I want, do what I can
Death to the message of the Ku Klux Klan
I don’t buy supremacy
Media chief, you menance me
The people you say cause all the crime
Wake up motherfucker and smell the slime
Blackest anger, whitest fear
Can you hear me, am I clear
My name is peace, this is my hour
Can I get just a little bit of power