Day…who cares…I did the 31 day photo challenge

And I’m glad I did it.

At times it was a real pain in the ass. You know, living life and still trying to get that one (or more) picture. Going to work, teaching writing workshops, spending time with friends, writing, taking pictures…and a whole bunch of other shit…like…life.

This was one of the most emotionally charged periods of my life. In fact, I even had a satori. And I picked a path from it. It’s a path that’s going to mean a lot of changes in my life. But, I’m an army brat. I’m used to that.

I’ve been going through my collection of books and trying to price them for a flea market sale. I’ve priced one of them at five million dollars. I think I’ll keep that one. And the one I priced at three million dollars.

Satori or not. There’re some things you just can’t shed. Because they’re you. And they’re everything you are now.

So, I think I’ll hang on to those ones.

We are so much from what we read.

And this is why I’m going to get back to my writing. As a writer, you are what you write. I’ve always known that. But I needed a break from that, and now the break is over. It’s even worse than the photo challenge. It’s writing every day for…maybe a year, or two, or three…whatever it takes to do it…and finish it. Back to life with words and coffee.

These are things we have to deal with if we’re going to be artists…and I mean that in the largest of senses. I met a hippie guy on one of my hippie tours back when I had hair down to my ass, and he said, “My life is a continous work of art.” I forget what kind of acid I was on that day, but I thought that was a pretty damn cool approach to life. And it really didn’t matter that he was saying that shit just to get chicks…he inadvertently made sense.

Each day, our lives are a work of art. It’s a massive canvas, a block of rock, a sentence on fire….and we are the engineers, the artists…the architects of our lives. Whatever we decide to do, to say, or to be on each of those days…is who and what we are each moment of that day. It’s everything we’ve ever been rolled up into a daily decision.

This holds interesting possibilities for the future. It means we can plan to be who and what we want to be, if only for a week ahead…that can turn into months, into years, into a lifetime. Here’s what I’m doing…

I’m going to decide what I’m going to decide on for the next week…and put that decision in my scheduler. Each decision will be something I’ve been putting off, or never thought I could do, or a risk, a dare to myself. It’s going to be all those people I’ve been in the past taunting me and saying, “Yeah, sure, Biff.”

Right, fox?

“What dimension did you just slip into, Biff?” said the fox.

But we’ll just ignore the fox for now. So, both of you, if you’re ever in Freddie Beach and you see some bald guy doing crazy things with a fox keeping a close eye on him…that won’t be me. I won’t be doing crazy things…I’ll be building the next me. And the next. And the next. One planned decision at a time.

You know…I hate winter. I really do. It’s cold, dark, slippery, wet…and full of this stuff you have to shovel, wipe off your car, keep off your camera lens and try to run through without breaking a leg. So…I’m going to make a month long decision right now. I’m going to do this photo challenge thing again…

in February.

After the challenge this one was with relatively mild weather…I’m sure February will be one of the biggest challenges of my life. Snow. I hate snow.

But I just made today’s decision, and once you’ve been satori’d, there’s no backing out.

Now, about that picture that you were guessing at. No, it’s not a giant mushroom even though it sure as hell looks like one. Here’s a clearer picture…

Tree by Church

It’s a tree on a church yard. Wood workers use these to make bowls. It’s called something like “knurl.” Something like that. The picture’s mis-focused, but I was getting snow and sleet and rain my lens.

(By the way, that hippie guy didn’t get laid. He got really high and started raving about the Americans in Vietnam bringing world peace. I don’t know what dimension he’d slipped into, but everyone quietly wandered back to their tents and left him out there ranting around the campfire.)

Day 28 – So Much Beauty…just waiting

The colors are going away, drifting off into those late autumn hours of rain, wind and cold. Each day, the trees have fewer leaves and all that fire in the trees is falling to the ground, leaf by leaf. Let’s see if I can put this poetically.

“No,”said the fox. “Please, Biff, don’t do that to us.”

“Fox,” I reply, “Isn’t it time for your intravenous?”

Aw…the fox doesn’t like me anymore. Maybe I don’t have to watch him smile anymore.

So here it is…poetry… and the intricate structure of naked branches are like veins of the earth rupturing into the sky.

That structure.

Those veins.

Naked trees.

I get chills.

I write lousy poetry.

OK, fox…you were right. Stop pouting and come back here and help me write this blog.

“Biff…if you ever mention my intravenous again…I’m leaving your blog.”

OK, fox. Don’t get your diaper so wound…I mean…don’t get your panties so wound up.”

“Tightrope, Biff, tightrope.”

OK, let’s talk about today. I was on my lunch hour, driving, drinking coffee, no idea what I was going to photograph. So I took the road into Lincoln because I got some good stuff there yesterday. But, there was one other place I’ve crossed paths with before and wanted to capture. So I drove there.

It’s a place where a stream flows into a marshy area almost like a horizontal roller coaster. It’s like a story unfolding. And that’s what nature is…a story unfolding. Around here, the story has four parts…summer, fall, winter and spring. Life, color, death and re-birth.

And the color.

I think…the closer you get to death…the more you appreciate the color. And color is so full of sound, texture, aroma and the beautiful sight of life.

These are things we’re taught to ignore. We’re taught to conform to the norm. We’re taught to average out so that we’re not noticed…so that we fit into a mould that was never of our making.

Fox, are you with me on this?

“Yeah, Biff…with you all the way on this.”

Hey, you two reading my blog…go into the woods. Leave your cell phones at home. Park your car half a mile from where you’re going into the woods. Get into the woods and close your eyes. Close them longer than you’ve ever closed them before. Forget everything…the job, the next payment, the relationship, the feeling of emptiness…and just feel the woods around you. Then, open your eyes and see the beauty.

It’s there. You haven’t lost it. It’s been there all the time…waiting for you.

Lesson learned: There can be color in black and white. No shit.

Day 28 1 Day 28 2 Day 28 3 Day 28 Day 1

Day 24 – Oh God…I Left My Camera At Work…but…

So I left work today with my friend Dwight driving me to the garage where I had winter tires installed…with studs. Studs. Chicks dig them. They lock the doors where I work as soon as everybody’s out the door. So the door was locked, and the only people who have keys are nameless and totally unapproachable. That’s when I realized…

I left my camera at work.

My 5D2 and 24-105 lens and 70-200 lens were locked away by nameless, unapproachable people. I felt naked. Alone. Estranged. Disconnected. I was a mess. I picked up my car and cried all the way home.

When I got home, I looked at the dining room table and saw it. It was my 1D2. An older camera, but state of the art in its day. Only 8.5 megapixels…but 50,000,000,000,000 focal points. And that’s a lot of focal points. So I grabbed the camera and a couple of lenses and headed down to the car without even showering the smell of IT off my body. (That’s information technology for both of you who, I’m assuming, have lives.) I haven’t used it much because some of its functions are still a mystery to me, but the shots I’ve gotten with it that are…droolable.

This camera still rocks.

I also left behind my photo book with a list of the images I want to capture (Not that I’ve followed it much anyway. I take a mindless approach to my art. Ask any of my writing students.) So, I drove around the city, a city drenched with rain, rain that wouldn’t say, “OK…you’re wet…I’ll move on.” It was nasty clinging rain. The kind that sticks to the earth like a big ball of snot droplets.

That kind of rain.

But I kept driving. And driving. And thinking…I’m hungry. And I have to run tonight. And do a workout. And eat. And take a picture and blog it. And Skype with my daughter. And buy a bottle of wine. And a box of cereal.

It took half an hour to find my picture. From a distance, it looked weird (which I believe I’ve been called lately for reasons I’ll keep to myself) but I knew it would look even weirder up close. So I parked my little blue Accent and walked over to the weirdness with my 1D2 and a 1.8 50mm lens and started taking pictures.

I was going for texture on this one. And the incredible design. And the contours that can make it just about anything your imagination conjures. It is so organic. And it evokes images of condoms. But that’s just me. And apparently, to a few people who obviously know me too well…I’m weird.

OK…both of you…my cherished readers…what do you think it is?

Mystery

Day 23 – Dancing Horses

Horse

So, the day I had the Jimmy and my camera and I was a god, I went to a place to take pictures of a lighthouse in HDR but didn’t like them. Also took pics of some horses in a corral beside the lighthouse, but given that the HDR needed three exposures blended into one image and the horses knew this and wouldn’t keep still long enough for me to get three shots that didn’t have them three feet apart practicing camera avoidance tactics like line dancing and rhumba, I didn’t get the three exposures I needed.

All I had was horse smudge.

So I said to myself, “Biff, you’ve never been a quitter. Don’t let these horses get away with this. Go back there, park a mile away from the corral, put on your camouflage shit, crawl on your belly up to the corral, hide in the bushes and get your horse shots.”

Which I did, but the horses weren’t there. So I did it again and the horses still weren’t there. After several more attempts, I knew what was going on…they were practicing Biff avoidance tactics. So I didn’t get my picture, but, man, can I crawl on my belly.

Decided on one last try. Today. And they were n the corral and didn’t see me up in a tree by the road disguised as a tree turkey. With a camera.

One of them said, “I think that bald photographer guy’s back. Should we eat him or dance?”

The other horse glanced up (as shown here) and said, “Naw. That’s just another damn tree turkey with a camera. But I wouldn’t mind a little dancing.”

And they started line dancing, very gracefully, in fact.

I knew I had my shot, so I shimmied down the tree, walked into the middle of the road, tore off my tree turkey disguise and shouted, “Ha ha, horses. Got my picture!”

“OK…let’s eat him.”

Did my fastest one minute mile ever…but I got the shot.

Day 22 – One Foggy River Morning

Foggy Morning River

I love rivers on foggy mornings. There’s something strangely chilling yet playful about misty apparitions teasing the surface of the water, touching here, floating away there, swirling like an immense troupe of arabesque dancers. There’s stillness in the dazzling movement.

And it’s all water…water dancing on water.

***

I’ve been on many canoe trips with my friend Nanook of the Nashwaak and seen the most magnificent things: crashing gorges, thunderous falls, sunlight shimmering on wavelets in the morning, treacherous ledges, rushing sluices and gentle rainfall dappling the water as the canoe slides quietly across the surface.

Eagles gliding over the horizon.

What stokes my soul though is the sound and presence of the water. We go to the water in the Spring, when the land sheds its snow in the form of ice cold crystal clear freshet water. It moves furiously through the reawakened forests sprouting flowers, leaves and alder bushes. Lots of alder bushes.

It’s an explosion of life.

Nanook and I spend long periods without saying a word…sipping beer, paddling gently and listening to the water. The sound gets into you, the endless rippling and gurgling. And it all flows into itself. The water from the high ground flows down through streams and creeks that flow into streams and creeks like a vast system of capillaries and arteries that continue their furious rush to the rivers and lakes and all the while feeding the land and kick-starting it back to life.

Sitting in the canoe, I can feel this massive organic presence through the sound of its awakening, the sound of its freshet blood flowing through it. I sip my beer and wish everyone could hear this.

Then they’d understand.

Day 18 – Bokeh

In photography there’s this thing called bokeh with about 50 million different pronunciations, so I’ll let you pick your own. I pronounce it bokeh. I comes from the Japanese word “boke” which means blur or haze. Which is exactly what photographers use it for.

We photographers sometimes like to make things blurry. I’ve felt this way since the 60s but I didn’t realize then that being a hippie was so damn bokeh. I’m not a hippie anymore but bokeh is still a hell of a lot of fun.

The idea is to focus on a subject that you want to capture in correctly/creatively exposed, correctly metered, perfectly white balanced, sublimely composed and infinitely interesting, and say to hell with the background.

Like, what’s all this background behind my pretty piece of wood? Go away background and stop competing for attention with my pretty piece of wood!

That’s essentially what it boils down to. You want the viewer’s eye to dwell on the subject and you don’t want the background to draw the eye away. If you’re taking a picture of a pretty piece of wood and there’re trees and water and dancing naked ladies (naked men for the ladies) in the background…well…what are you going to look at?

The water of course. Not the pretty piece of wood. So, here’s what you do: You use a shallow depth of field, which means you focus sharply on the subject and not so sharply on the background. In fact, you focus so un-sharply on the background that it’s almost entirely out of focus. It turns into shapes…sometimes circles, sometimes diamonds, sometimes just blurry shapes that may or may not look like anything but shapes.

And how do you achieve a shallow depth of field? For an in-depth explanation, go to Cambridge in Colour. If you really don’t give a shit, then the short answer is…magic.

Yeah…magic.

I love bokeh shots. They have this steamy cool quality that grabs me by the ass and shakes my world. So, today I went down to the river and got out my 70-200 lens and tripoded it (after kissing it and caressing it, of course).

And took a picture of a pretty piece of wood.

Bokeh 2

Day 17 – Laundry and a Car Wash in the Rain

Car Wash

So here I am…at the laundromat. Standing up at a counter writing my blog. Had to drive around the city looking for one that was 1) not full to capacity and 2) open. Found one.

And guess what?

This one has a car wash. A car wash. At the moment, my car is parked out in the rain being washed by nature, but that doesn’t ruin my fascination with the car wash. There’s something psychedelic about car washes. And sometimes scary…with all that noise, like turbines from hell (Look at the picture…see the turbines?) The giant brushes and scrubbers and foams and rinses. It’s like LSD for the teetotaller. The trip without the buzz.

A psychedelic trip for those seeking to expand their horizons.

My brother and I used to get high and go through the car wash, sometimes spending an entire afternoon going through the car wash over and over. It was the safest place in the city to smoke a joint.

It was a blast. And we had the shiniest car in town.

On one of these outings we left the windows open. Boy, were we high that day. It took a while to figure out what was going on. You’d be surprised how long a minute is when you’re suddenly taking a shower in your car and nothing makes any sense. We rolled up the windows and rolled up another joint. And laughed like crazy for the next hour.

And the next three car washes.

My brother lives in a group home now, after a botched suicide attempt that blew the circuitry in his brain. He gave up on life, but life didn’t give up on him. Funny about that…the randomness of it. Some people love life…and lose it under the most pointless conditions. Some don’t want to have anything to do with it, but it clings to them like gum on their shoes.

Maybe if I’d taken my brother for an afternoon trip to the car wash back then. Maybe we’d still be laughing. Maybe we’d still be going through that damn car wash, joint after joint.

Day 15 – Personal Thoughts On Where This Project Has Taken Me At The Halfway Point

BooksMy life weighs too much.

It’s not a physical weight measured in pounds or kilograms or bars of gold…it’s more like a weight I feel everywhere in my body, emanating from my tan dien, a mystical place behind our belly buttons where we store chi energy. I fill it up every morning with Qi Gong. This energy weighs about as much as a lady bug fart. Maybe less.

So why does it feel heavy? Good question, whichever one of the two of you is reading my blog today. It’s a roundabout story.

I teach my creative writing students how to write two types of back story: the historical one that could track a person over a period of weeks or years; and  the departure back story…that instant in time when you have to make a decision that defines you for the rest of your life. Or until the next departure point. I believe that’s called satori in some circles. And it’s a powerful thing, if used right.

Last Friday I was standing on a breakwater ridge running through a marshy conservation area when I began to experience satori. The whole day had been leading into it. Most of the past year with its growing realization that something was wrong had been leading into it. I looked out over a beautiful flat wonderland of long grass and water, teenage trees and lush bushes. It was sunny and warm. Dragon flies buzzed around my head.  I’d been driving around for several hours in a Jimmy taking pictures of places in a life I’d left behind years ago.

I was ready for this.

It didn’t come as a sudden mind-blowing bolt of lightning crashing through my soul and setting my essence on fire. I don’t need scary shit like that in my life anymore. It was more like, “Oh yeah…that.”

This can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing. It’s what you do with it that decides that.

At that moment something awakens and once it’s awake, you can’t put it back to sleep because you’ve seen it. And it knows you’ve seen it. It’ll always be there. I know this.

Here’s the point…it keeps trying to grow whether you like it or not. That point of departure is a moment when two paths open up. One path leads into growth, no matter how frightening or uncomfortable that might be. It’s like you’re running with yourself, with all the expansiveness that comes with being free of fearing the path.

The other path leads away from something that’s not going to ever stop trying to grow inside you, and you end up running away from yourself.

I’m not sure where this one’s going to take me. I ignored the last one and it’s been a spiritual sickness inside me for so many years…something I didn’t even know was there and didn’t want to know was there.

I’m not doing that again.

I’m going to pare my life down to the essentials and get rid of some of the weight. I have a few hundred books I’m never going to read again. They’re sitting on book shelves that block the beautiful view of my walls. I’m going to sell the damn things and buy an ereader. And see my beautiful walls.

I have closets stuffed with things that have been stuffed in the closets so long that all they are now is closet stuffer. They’re not blocking the view of my beautiful walls, but I know they’re there. Weighing on me. The walls that I can see are cluttered with pictures that break my heart because the times they depict are gone forever and I need to let go of them, not of those times, but the feelings their loss evokes. They can be brought out from albums on those occasions when the time is right. I need to get lighter, inside and outside. I might just turn my living room into a Japanese sand garden.

Wouldn’t that be cool.

And yeah, the inside…back into the old tan dien side of things.

I need to return to my writing. It’s been a couple of years…hanging around in the visual world, far away from worlds created with words and coffee. I don’t regret the break. I needed it. But writing for this project reminds me that it’s time. I love that magic when I download a day’s worth of pictures and discover that I got just one of them right. That’s the gem that makes the day shine through the night.

I also love writing, watching my characters grow with the flow of the words until they demand to be set free and live their lives in a world I’ve created for them. And no, there’s nothing godly about this. Ask any of my writing students. They’ll tell you. It’s called parenting.

I have tough decisions to make so that I stay on the right path until that next departure, but I’m cool with that. I’m glad I started this project. It’s helped me to start seeing with a photographer’s eye, and see with a multitude of other eyes as well.

Lesson learned: Life is one long meditation with the occasional slap in the face to remind us that everything else is just a dream. That slap in the face is called satori.

It creates two paths…

Day 11 – I Was A God…with a camera

Took my car into the garage to have a new knock sensor put in my car. I don’t have a clue what that is…maybe something to detect engine knock and maybe do something about it…like say something like, “Hey engine…I see you knocking. Stop it.” Something like that.

Anyway, my old friend, Mike, who owns the garage tossed a set of keys and pointed out the window and said, “Take that out and we’ll call you when it’s done.” He was pointing at a Jimmy.

A Jimmy.

And I had my camera and tripod with me.

I walked slowly and reverently to the Jimmy, got in and…

I was a god.

I was a god with a Jimmy and a camera. I could go anywhere with my camera. I looked at the dash and saw the four wheel low button.

Oh, yeah.

Now, where was I? Right…I was a god with a camera and four wheel low.

My car, the one that was getting a new knock sensor is a Hyundai Accent. Sometimes I’ll come out to the parking lot and find trucks accidentally parked on top of it.

Today though…I was a god. With a camera. Get the picture?

I thought, “This will be a fine day to drive around and take HDR photos. High Dynamic Range. Camera’s can only capture the highlights or the shadows. Not both. At least not really accurately. They focus on one or the other and then average out the other. In HDR photography, you take three (or more…I take three) pictures. You overexpose one image, underexpose another, and get the next one at the metered exposure. Then you merge all three in Photoshop and get an image that’s evenly exposed for the highlights, the shadows and the mid-tones.

And this allows you to do some pretty cool stuff because the image has a dynamic range that goes through the ceiling.

First stop…the river, to take pics of my fav clump of trees. I’ve been taking pictures of these trees for over a year. It’s good to do something like this because you really get to know the location and where to look for the best shots, with the aim of getting better each time. You know, perfection. I used to be perfect, but the 60s ended and all the good drugs dried up. Now I’m stuck with reality and sometimes that can really suck. Like when they tell you that the lottery ticket you just bought is the winning one and just when you think you’re about to buy that Lamborghini you always wanted, they draw somebody else’s stupid numbers.

Reality. Sometimes it sucks.

Next, I took to some of the back roads through farming country, looking for some old buildings with lots of character and detail. This is where HDR really shines. Detail. I found this old garage with lots of character detail and, since my car was in a garage, I figued…yeah, sure. Why not?

Piece of advise: When you’re taking HDR pictures of old garages with lots of character and detail, don’t stand too close to the road, especially where curves are located. Almost lost my derriere to truck. The only thing that saved me was the fact that I was a god with a camera and a Jimmy. The driver might not have known that, but the truck did. I still have a derriere.

And then I just took off to places with swamps and trees and old buildings with character and detail, wooded areas…a mini lake. I took over 200 pictures, barely avoided a skunk, and drank four cups of coffee. All of this stuff I just wrote…took me 30 seconds.

Got the call from Mike. My car was ready. Four hours, plus the new sensor. I thought…around $300…$350. It was $200. Beer money. Pool money. Maybe a growler at the studio.

Back home and back to being just Biff with a camera and an Accent (talk about a crash), I narrowed the images down what I thought were the three best. I eliminated one, but couldn’t make up my mind about the remaining two. So this will be another two picture day.

Lesson learned: When you park your Accent, stick a red flag on the roof. Maybe trucks won’t accidentally park on top of it.

Scene 1 Scene 2