25 June 2010

Making Ideas Happen bookcoverThis isn’t a review of Scott Belsky’s book Making Ideas Happen — because I’ve only read 4 pages of it so far. I’m going to read the other pages, I believe, it’s just that I haven’t yet. A few things have slowed my progress: the book is made out of paper — indeed, it’s a hardcover even. Thus, the book is not on my phone or my Kindle when I’m floating about looking to read a page or two. Also, said physical book has a dust jacket with weird, rough-feeling varnish, which kind of freaks me out and every time I pick it up, I spend some time thinking about this varnish choice. Finally, the cover uses the graphic trope of puzzle pieces in the jacket design, which I find shocking — for its designer to have even suggested something so hackneyed is shocking, but to have had it accepted by the multiple parties no doubt involved and have it go through all the way to production is just downright odd and disturbing. I thought we all had gotten over the puzzle pieces as the best visual metaphor ever thing a long time ago, like in the late 80s. But I digress. Actually, I haven’t even begun anything from which to digress.

In the few pages of the book that I have read, Mr. Belsky posits that lots of people, especially creative ones, have lots of ideas, but the problem is that people don’t follow through on these ideas. (Thus the book is about how to do so.) That sounds very right and true to me. Seth Godin talks about something similar all the time.

Today, this all happened in real life.

So, generally, I sit my office. I do my design stuff. Sometimes I have ideas, such as for art projects, or weird computer applications that have to do with poodles, or infographics or social movements, but usually I just sit in my office and keep doing my design stuff. Sometimes I write the ideas down on my whiteboard or one of many physical and electronic lists that swirl around me in billowing clouds.

Last year, I had this idea, to turn this historic tower in my town into a camera obscura. I don’t know where this idea came from exactly — a combination of wanting to do a community-centric art project, a love of building cameras, an appreciation of Abe Morell‘s and Jo Babcock‘s work, a general spirit of “hey, I should make some art!”.

This time, I actually acted on the idea, at least so far as applying for a grant to do the project from my local arts organization. I got the grant. And guess what! This means I have to Make the Idea Happen.

So, I’m doing this art event tomorrow. All week I’ve been emailing people I love and like but never bother to reach out to (because I’m reclusive-ish). Many have written back!

Today, I left my office and went to do some preparation. First I went to the Arts Council’s office to get a key to the building that will house my camera. In doing so, I went to a neighborhood of my town I’d never been in before, I found out about all these different city offices that are housed over there and I met someone new from the Arts Council. I already felt more civically engaged — and it was only 11 am.

Next, I went to the site where I’ll make the camera and set a few things up. While I was doing so, a bunch of people — from families to tourists to a group of developmentally disabled teens on a field trip — came up to me and asked questions about the historic building and what I was doing. I was able to let them see inside the usually locked structure, which made them really happy. All people I’d never talk to usually, especially if I stayed in my office. Chock up another few points for community engagement.

Then I went and walked around the neighborhood and put up some posters for the event. I talked to a man at the bus stop who was ranting about wanting 50¢ and giving people who wouldn’t give it to him a really hard time (I gave him 50¢ and he didn’t say thank you. Hmf!) I talked to a Haitian mum and her daughter at another bus stop. A sporty young woman walking by smiled at me as I sat on the grass playing with my masking tape. All of this does not happen on usual days. In the office.

And guess what! It was kind of energizing. Yeah, big deal, talking to a few random strangers, but the thing of actually DOING an art project, of engaging with the people in my neighborhood (sing to the tune of the Mr. Rodgers’ song) really, actually was  quite nice. I’m excited about tomorrow. If you’re reading this and in the area, come by! There’s more info about the project here.

OK, this is all very simple, even naïve, but I think I am starting to get it. Think I’ll make a point of making more ideas happen.

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13 May 2010

I know Polaroid Week is over — it was last week — (and sorry, I’m not going to go ’round calling it “‘roid” week, as it’s apparently officially known, I’m all for neologisms and clever word-mutation, but that just smacks of “hemorrh…” to me),  but I wanted to post a few more bits and pieces.

During the aforementioned special week, I shot a roll of the mysterious TZ Artistic Fade to Black SX70 film (again in my Pronto! B — see the last entry about shooting PX100 Silver Shade in the same camera). Apparently this stuff is an “experimental material”, which may mean it’s an “experimental material” and may mean that it’s totally screwed up. Film stock functionality is in the eye of the beholder though, no? In the instructions for this film, it says that, after it pops out of the camera, you need to watch it carefully, and as soon as looks the way you’d like it to, color/exposure-wise, you need to make a very quick decision and open up the film and get the backing away from the front mylar (and thus stopping the development) or else it will, well, fade to black.

So, I set forth in the world armed with scissors, and proceeded to take shots and then rush my photographic patients into the ER for emergency surgery, covering myself, a café table, a park bench and god-knows-what else with caustic paste. (Much to my gentleman friend’s delight whilst we were eating our lunch.)

The first shot, outside, of a stone lion-type-animal went quite swimmingly (more swimmingly, even, than it appears on the web — thanks color profiles). The colors looked lovely in a weird cross-processy way, a few minutes after exposure, and I carefully removed the backing part way and set the photo standing on its side (with the front and back not touching each other). I left it thus through lunch, and after reassembled it by taping the back back to the front, on the back (yay, confusing sentences!) with some masking tape I also had on hand.

I tried some shots in the café, which was somewhat dim, and managed to get 1 out of 3 to expose in an even quasi-reasonable way. This, I would imagine, was my fault, not the film’s — I was fussing with the light/dark dial and not being very clever. The shot that came out was of another lion, this time a carved wooden one that was part of a chair. Again, I did my emergency surgery. This time, the colors came out dark, but somewhat pleasing. Almost painterly.

Wood Lion

Now, of course, I was determined to photograph more lions with my few remaining shots. So I went on an insanely long drive, looking for lions (eventually managing to go from Boston to Lowell to Portsmouth NH in a quite indirect sort of way). Oddly, I did not find anymore lions (well, one, in felt on a purse in a shop but it was very dark and not a very good setup). So I photographed a buddha and some mural-whales and some other things I’ve now forgotten, because, wait for it, they faded to black! Apparently, you have to be quite careful about leaving too much caustic paste on the mylar surface, and you have to let it all really dry before you put it back together. Oh well. The buddha came out kinda neat… with a bunch of digital processing, it can be neater. But that’s cheating. Or not. Depends on my mood.

dress-shop-buddha (with a little digital contrast tweaking)

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4 May 2010

Firstly, I am sorry I disappeared for so long. At the risk of making this a boring and trite “dear diary” moment, I’ll just say I was slightly preoccupied about where to take the Tiny Flying Goats project and dissatisfied with my perceived failings. But, damnit Annie, you know you need to just forge ahead. So here we are, and here we go.

Secondly, today is a one-day holiday (International Respect for Chickens Day) amidst an entire week-long holiday (Polaroid Week). I think this Chicken Respect business is pretty much up there with Groundhogs’ Day in terms of brilliant holidays. I have, coincidentally, been spending quite a bit of time respecting chickens of late (chiefly hanging out with them in various locales, working on a new photography series). I’ll be writing about the chicken photos later, but for now, please do celebrate today by respecting chickens. You can also read some more about our fine feathered friends at United Poultry Concerns. (I am concerned that the chickens are all going to be hung over tomorrow, after all this partying.)


As for that other thing, Polaroid week… I’ve been celebrating that too. Mostly, this is because I sprung for some of that yummy new PX100 Silver Shade film that the Impossible Project put out recently. It’s pretty pricey (understandably, with the R&D that’s been going on the past year), but it’s completely delectable, and I wish I had more of it. But it’s sold out, so I guess I’ll have to wait for the “second flush”.

Nerdy Camera Stuff

Though I try, I’m kind of bad at being a geeky photographer. I get a bit befuddled about the parts of photography that involve numbers. Sure, I know that stuff, and sure, I’m always trying crazy ambitious things like taking lens-building workshops for medium format cameras which totally involve math, and getting together with my photographer friend Jared for hours of coffee and camera-geek-talk… but at the heart of the matter, I’m much more of an impressionist than a stickler for exactitude and technique.

That said, let me tell you a little about my experience with the new PX100 Silver Shade integral Polaroid film… I was slightly wary of using it, at first, as it is, as I was saying, rather pricey ($21/8 shots), and the website made it sound very temperamental. But it turned out to be quite charming and not that difficult to deal with.

I was using a circa 1977 Pronto! B rigid-body SX70 camera.

Outdoor Shots

First, I went outside and shot with available light. It was a bit cold out… maybe 55 or 60˚F. (This film is prefers 63-75˚F), so I put each shot in my pocket to develop (the film is also light-sensitive while developing). Turns out the heat and darkness of my pockets did the trick quite nicely — though my results varied based on how long I kept the pictures away from light and what setting I had the light/dark adjustment set to on the camera (starting with it in the center for outdoor shots and adjusting in small increments worked well).

Indoor Shots

Later that evening, being addicted now to the Silver Shade film, I decided to do some still life photos inside. I set up two very bright color-balanced photo floods on either side of a table. I pulled out a Polaroid “macro” lens (i.e., a +3 filter). Of course, this lens wasn’t actually for this camera (it’s for pack film Land Cameras, I think), and actually had a different dimension and attachment mechanism than the Pronto lens, so, you guessed it, Scotch Tape to the rescue! Actually I’m quite well-chuffed with the weird vignetting that the smaller-than-the-lens-and-inexactly-attached filter caused.

The temperature inside was in the upper 60s, so that wasn’t an issue, but I still developed the shots in my pocket, to protect them from the light. I think they may have, thusly gotten a little too hot, causing some solarization-like effects (in a kind of oxblood-red color, in the shadows). Shooting indoors, with all that light, I had to turn the light/dark dial way up… or is that down? (I didn’t meter this situation, but it was pretty obvious what needed doin’.)

Summation (whoa, that’s an awfully formal subhead)

Interesting that the outdoor/colder weather shots came out far more yellowy-sepia and the indoor/hotter shots came out far more red. Both are lovely palettes. Especially fooling around with ill-matched filters and stuff, these pictures are delightfully and weirdly reminiscent of van dyke brown prints or even callitypes… but then they’re encased in plastic and pop out of one’s 70s camera instantly! If “thumbs up” weren’t trademarked vis-a-vis the rating of films, I would certainly give one or two to this film.

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