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.

 

Reviewing old B&W photos with no dates on them


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Today, Tina and I drove to the south side of the city to an area called Palos Park. I think.

We visited Tina’s aunt and uncle to share some recent black & white photos that Tina received from her brother. The photos were from Tina’s parents and grandparents, and many of the faces were of strangers or people we have no way of recognizing.

Tina thought it would be a good idea to share the shots with her family to see if they could identify them or if they would even want them, or copies of them.

It was a trip down memory lane, and her uncle was able to name many of the folks in the photos.

Among the pictures were envelopes filled with loved-one’s hair.

It’s great when you’re looking at photos, and you hear the stories about different people. Tina’s uncle would say, “Oh man, this guy here. Your mom’s uncle’s brother’s sister-in-laws brother’s cousin’s dad … I hated that guy … what an asshole.”

I love the candor.

I personally enjoyed looking at the quality of the photos. I mean, you have these strange families in their better-than-Sunday best posing in the once-in-a-lifetime photo that captured them in such crisp and beautiful black and white. Or the little photos that are thumbnails of street scenes. Kids playing in fire hydrant water. So much history with ghosts whom I’ll never ever meet. Or maybe met once at a wedding or funeral.

It was a lot of fun.

After the trip down memory lane, we enjoyed dinner together before driving 45 minutes back to the city.

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When shooting a lot of reflections in a tight space, go with your gut


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The photo above was from a shoot I found incredibly challenging. We were asked to shoot a space, a small space mind you, that showed the environment and the product within.

The products, dear reader, were incredibly reflective. Tina and I went great lengths to cancel reflections hoping that it would make the photos shine.

The available light, while constant in the space, was mixed when viewed like this. We had to schedule the shoot during office hours, pretty much insuring that we’d have the blue cast across the tops of the images.

I know I can crop in, but I feel this image actually gives a sense of place.

More images below. Enjoy.

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Spark Energy might not be a scam, but their business practices are suspect … a review, a recorded customer service call, and you


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Like many Americans, we get door-to-door salesman from time to time. Last fall, we actually welcomed a roaming door-to-door sales guy in from Spark Energy. Why? Because the sales guy was a friend named Mike. I worked with his girlfriend on a photoshoot and I used to see him every once in a while at my local watering hole. I tend to put trust in friends, basically because I want the same in return.

Spark Energy is a company that claims to work with your energy utilities to provide a cheaper rate than actual utility can, by selling you gas or electricity at reduced costs.

The sales meeting was suspicious to both Tina and me, but in the end, we accepted what this guy Mike was saying was truthful, because who lies to their friends?

By the way, the funniest thing was that the sales guy was not allowed to step inside our apartment. He did the entire transaction from the threshold of our place. “But we’re friends,” I told him. “Come on in.”

“Nope. I can’t,” He explained. “I could get into trouble.”

After he explained what seemed to be a good deal,  we signed up last September. We didn’t see much of a difference in our bills. We were contracted to use them for a year, so I was fine with sticking it out till the end. We weren’t losing money after all either.

Status quo is fine with me.

And the early termination of the contract would be $50.

But then we received our gas bill this month for over double last month’s bill. Further examination showed that it was an adjustment fee from Spark Energy. Tina called People’s Gas first, and they said it was Spark’s charge. She called Spark, and a robotic customer service rep kept explaining that the charges were an accumulation of three month’s of Spark Energy charges. He explained that when Spark sent invoices to People’s Gas, PG rejected the invoices.

The charge after three months of rejection was for $112.63.

So if you divide $112 by 3 and add that to our monthly bill, that’s almost $40 more each month.

So Tina was on the line talking circles with the customer service rep trying to understand where this charge came from and how to avoid it in the future. While she was on the phone, I googled Spark Energy and found a lot of websites like this or this from BBB with lots of negative reviews. On a Consumer Affairs site, Spark Energy representatives responded to each complaint and made some resolution statement.

The Better Business Bureau has not accredited them.

So I should have done my homework, but — like I said — I want to trust my “friends.”

What ended up being the kicker was Spark Energy’s own website. Get this.

On their front page, they claim to have a 5.0 customer service approval rating. I’m not statistician, but I read that to mean that no one, not one person, has given a negative review.

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But if you go into their comments and ratings, there are many ratings lower ratings than a 5. They apparently only keep about 22 comments at a time, because I can’t imagine a company has only 22 comments in all its 10 years of business.

Below is in fact what their ratings are based on 22 responses at the time of this writing.

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So their site isn’t exactly a very ethically sound one, don’t you think?

The guy that Tina spoke to finally agreed to give her to a supervisor. And I took the phone from Tina. I learned a trick recently that helped with a dispute with our bank over a $50 charge: I record my phone call.

My hope was to get to the bottom of the charge. And when the guy told me what he told Tina, I would cancel my subscription to Spark Energy and also ask them to waive the $50 early termination fee.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t get that shit waived. If you keep these guys on the line until you’re blue in the face, you will get what you want.

So … if you can stand hearing me stumble and bumble over my words … I’m posting our conversation below. I feel a little badly about calling him a liar, but it was a moment of weakness. I needed more leverage, and I thought I had a better argument going into the “lie” statement.

You gotta give the guy props, though. He never lost his cool with me.

All in all, we got what we wanted: to get out of the contract and to get the fee waived.

This is certainly a lesson learned. Don’t trust door-to-door without doing my homework.

Do yours as well. If one of these guys comes to your door, just do a quick google of their company before signing on the dotted line.

I couldn’t edit the clip for this posting, but I’ll revise it soon and upload it. Edwin, the customer service supervisor doesn’t pickup until about 0:30.