January 31, 2005

Stopped in traffic one morning I glanced to my left and spied this rig next to me. Now I'd always appreciated the strips of reflective safety stickers that large trucks use on their bumpers and containers, but there was something about the pairing of these red/white horizontals and the chunky bolts that seemed very painterly. There was a compositional structure to the bit of container parked next to me: in the way that the horizontal lines created bands to contain the hardware and in the way that the bolts staggered and alternated their spacing. I assumed that aesthetics was not the driving force behind the structural choices on this truck, but in some ways that made the presence of compositional balance all the more profound, because then the truck became another example of beauty as a by-product of successfully designed utility. In other words, the single minded focus on functionality, and the successful realization of this focus, automatically yielded an object of aesthetic beauty.

This idea is quite dear to the contemporary craft and design world. It dominated many theory classes that I had at the Oregon College of Art & Craft (OCAC) and had a profound impact of a number of my friends at school. In fact, I suspect that the metal hull of the truck next to me initially caught by eye because of its similarity to the thesis work of Ben Ediger, who also had graduated in 2003. Even from the first days of school, Ben had always possessed an uncanny eye for the sublime in the functional. His thesis work was a series of tables created from bent-plywood forms wrapped with riveted sheet metal and given a distressed finish.

Ben Ediger, O/U #1, 2003
plywood, aluminum sheet metal, rivets, milk paint, lacquer
17" x 16" x 48"
Photo: Robert Di Franco

These tables continue to be some of the finest crafted objects I've ever encountered personally. Their purpose is obvious and their use quite intuitive. I hardly need to point out his meticulous attention to detail in both form and finish. They are part of the very reasonable argument against mass production and institutional design. Having recently photographed much of Ben's new work I can also state that these tables are just the beginning to an oeuvre which boldly asserts his commitment to functional aesthetics.

Ben Ediger, O.U.T. #1, 2003
plywood, aluminum sheet metal, rivets, milk paint, lacquer
17" x 16" x 48"
Photo: Robert Di Franco


The Light Invisible

January 30, 2005

My wife is the artist. My sister-in-law the cheerful model. I'm the art director using a gnarly chunk of foam core to bounce one tiny pool of light on the assorted pins, necklaces, and fabric corsages being modeled. Judging by the ladies' expressions I'm betting we were all having a great time during this photo shoot. My halting the proceedings to record everything on the Photo Phazer undoubtedly contributed to the high level of jollity.

* * * * *

One thing I appreciate about this image though is the odd sense that my sister-in-law is looking through the beam of reflected light. It's almost as if she's contemplating the light, or the fact that the light is invisible to her except when it reveals another object with its rays. Even if there had been dust in the air that morning she would not have been able to perceive the path of the reflected beam amidst all the ambient light, and yet, there it is just inches behind her; a soft yellow glow catching the edge of her shoulder. 


Built Scrap

January 29, 2005

I know what you're thinking— how can he shoot the film and be sawing wood in the film at the same time? Or maybe a few of you are more puzzled by the unsupported piece of sawed lumber that seems to be leaping off the right side of the image. Logic would dictate that the saw is in one hand and the elevating bit of cut-off is in my other: which is true. Further proof that logic is quite logical. This leaves the camera to be manned by someone else. I'm guessing my wife, as it was her tabletop photography booth that I was constructing out of this found lumber.

By this time in 2005 Ebay had already become a huge entity and there were countless expensive products on offer to help you take nicely exposed photographs for your auctions.* Most of them consisted of a reflective base that you set your sale item on that was lit from both sides by two clamp lights diffused by translucent fire-retardant cloth. Some even used a tent like construction of diffusion cloth that wrapped around the whole stand so as to not only soften the clamp lights, but block out much of the ambient light as well. Having more time than money, I decided to build one out of junk wood in the garage.

Like most things I build it worked, but was somewhat cumbersome as a result of not investing in the correct weights and widths of lumber. It was designed to collapse down relatively flat with a few quick turns of some wing nuts, but its flat dimension was still seven inches. I think it weighed thirty of forty pounds and we were perpetually misplacing the clothespins and cloth needed to filter the lights. My wife used it for about ten months. I think some form of it still takes up precious real estate in our studio.

*For the record, my wife needed to photograph her artwork and accessory line, not precious family heirlooms to sell on Ebay.


Search Me

January 28, 2005

A rabbit's foot? German nutcracker mustache? Bit o' McDuff? Ralph Lauren Fitch Edge faux finish paint brush stirring up January mud? I have no idea.


Reflected vs Incident Light

January 27, 2005

I will assume that the majority of you reading this are not trained photographers. This is not a judgement. I state it only so the next few minutes that I spend typing won't seem pointless.

Cameras are equipped with light meters so that consumers don't end up with horribly over, or under, exposed images. They are very convenient, and if the camera batteries are checked with some regularity, will deliver fairly reliable results so long as you are initiated into the mystery cult of reflected light.

That's right, there's something that your in-camera light meter isn't telling you. A dark secret, if you will, that will sabotage all your brilliant photographs of snow, white ceilings, and polar bears under bridal veils in blizzards. It is the secret of 18% gray.

You see, the light meter on your camera doesn't measure the actual amount of light falling on a subject, it measures the amount of light reflected off that subject. This reflected light enters your camera's light sensor(s) and based upon how much reflected light is registered the meter makes a guess about how much actual (or incident) light is hitting the subject. That's right, it guesses. 

Now some people might find that endearing. It's a nice bit of personification when you think about it— complex sensor(s) and processors do their best to make an educated guess on behalf of the human. . . But it is absolutely maddening if you want a photograph of a white subject to demonstrate a broad tonal range but still read as a white subject.* I know, because it would be some time before anyone helped me understand why all of my pictures of white subjects looked like I'd put a 20% gray filter between the lens and the subject.**

This issue of reflected light and the camera's best guess works great for many subjects because most images contain a fairly broad range of items that are all reflecting light to various degrees. When you average out all these different quantities of reflection you get an overall cast of 18% gray in the image. By assuming that, the camera, more often than not, takes a decently exposed image. However, if you are shooting anything that is predominantly dark (low amount of reflected light) or exceedingly bright (high amount of reflected light) the camera won't compensate and will continue to read as if the image had a balance of tones that averaged out to about 18% gray. Then it becomes the human's problem to compensate for the discrepancy by either allowing more light in to the lens than the meter says to, or allowing less light in (also against the meter's suggestion). In other words, the user has to make a judgement that contradicts what the technology states to do. 

While that seems easy, don't underestimate the power our products have over us now. Our modern culture has embraced the idea of the product being right for decades and I'd say that, generally, we are a long way from the days of inquisitive tinkering and experimentation.*** Even I tend to defer to the light meter when I know it's wrong. I'll take the image at the exposure it wants as insurance against my own arrogance in assuming it to be incorrect.

That's why I love the Photo Phazer. It has no controls of any kind other than ON, OFF, and SHOOT. Like most other cameras it has a set of sensors that find the "perfect" exposure. And like most other cameras, when left to its own devices, it turns the line between a white wall and the white ceiling into a brooding abstraction in neutral gray.

*Excessively dark, or predominantly black, subjects are equally difficult to capture. A good rule of thumb is to not try and photograph your black labrador standing against a black car at night.

**In all these examples I'm assuming that I'm photographing with black and white film, not color. Hence, when I refer to 20% gray it is because I think of black and white film as being a single spectrum, with white being at 0%, black being at 100%, and there being 99 steps of gray between the two. Nevertheless, all of the same issues regarding light meters apply to color film as well, but there are many more spectrums to consider; red, blue, etc.

***Even though it was just those tendencies that led to such technical marvels in the first place. I suppose that nowadays the cost of the equipment is the most prohibitive barrier to amateur inquiry.



January 26, 2005

It was a dark and stormy night. I sat in the car, feeling the engine vibrating against the loose engine mounts under the hood. The wipers swished away great rivulets of water. About five vertical feet of the oak tree's trunk was illuminated by the headlights, the rest of it hid in the oppressive black. Inside the house there was broiled chicken. Inside the car there was only fear.



January 25, 2005

While it comes early on in the project I think we've reached my favorite image from the daily practice. My admiration is not born out of adoration for my stylish footwear or the memory of long walks around the scrubby oak hillsides above Glendale. With this image, indeed with the minute long movie from which this still derives, it is about the tiny appearance and disappearance of life in an otherwise empty plane of concrete. Success here is a matter of conceptual affinity and compositional balance. It is an urban sonnet. It is an insular moment. It is the hope for something beyond the gray.


The Suffering Cycle

January 24, 2005

Apparently I went to the pet store on January 24, 2005. I undoubtedly went there to purchase some litter for sweet Pneu. Well, that was one reason I went there— the other reason was to have my heart-strings yanked at by the world's saddest chinchilla. 

This chinchilla had eyes made vacant by months of incomprehensible fear. 

I wanted to save that chinchilla so badly. The thought of it under those florescent lights for week after week actually kept me up some nights. But to buy it would have been to put another one in its place, and thereby become implicit in the cycle of suffering.



January 23, 2005

I wanted to share a real slice of Americana with some friends from France. Where would I take them? What was a defining cultural experience in the heart of LA county? I tried to ignore my inclinations toward irony— how about the tar pits, or that stretch of Long Beach that you couldn't swim in do to an elevated bacterial count, or the Costco in Azusa— but I couldn't help myself. I took them to Chuck E. Cheese.

Apart from the blaring games, screaming children, garish colors, petrie dish carpeting, animatronic abominations, and the sickly smell of burnt cheese I think they found it intriguing. They just kept thanking me in a most emphatic way and I, being somewhat humbled by all this gratitude, assured them that there were many other cool places I could show them. After all, "I grew up among this." This was home.

* * * * *

Inside the Chuck E. Cheese was a new-fangled photo booth that made "drawn portraits" in the style of the old masters Leonardo, Michelangelo, or Rembrandt. I could hardly contain my excitement and immediately insisted that my wife and I have our portrait done. You see, I have a history with this sort of portrait booth that can be traced back to my final year of art school when one such booth played an important role in my thesis.

Here is an excerpt that will explain:
Prior to my thesis year I’d heard rumors of a photo booth that produced a finished drawing of the subject rather than the traditional strip of small glossy photographs. . . My excitement to see this marvel was severely curbed however. . . when I came to realize that the Portrait Studio was little more than a booth that took your photograph, ran it through a filter or two in Photoshop, and signed the resulting inkjet print on bond paper with the name Rembrandt, Leonardo, or Michelangelo (depending of what artistic medium you wished to have your visage rendered in), I was both disappointed and amused enough to initiate a project entitled Self Portraits of the Masters.

Self Portraits of the Masters consists of three framed portraits created by the booth introduced by a computer-printed reproduction of the sign that advertises the booth on its exterior. This poster-like display invites mall denizens to “Step Inside my Studio” and receive “Your Portrait by a Famous Artist in Minutes,” as well as giving a heavily abbreviated list of steps that are required to obtain this masterpiece. Once inside the booth you realize that masterworks don’t come cheap, because a black and white “drawing” costs $3.00 and an original “oil painting or color pastel” work runs $5.00. Leonardo da Vinci works only in pencil, Michelangelo draws with color pastel, and Rembrandt is a virtuoso of both charcoal and oil paint. I was hardly surprised at the Portrait Studio designers choice of representative artists, wondering only about the absence of Van Gogh (I later decided he would prove a poor choice because even in his own day few people appreciated the portraits he painted), because these three giants of the art world are probably the most recognizable artists to the majority of people.

Unable to quell my penchant for irony I obtained large renderings of one of Rembrandt’s painted self portraits and a copy of da Vinci’s supposed late-in-life self portrait in red chalk. I then held these images up in front of the Portrait Studio’s camera, chose the appropriate artist settings, and waited for the booth to present me a portrait of the old master created by the old master (the printouts are even dated by the artist, so now I own a Rembrandt and a da Vinci from 2003). Since Michelangelo’s only known self portrait was as a flayed skin within the Last Judgment on the Sistine Chapel’s anterior wall I decided that the third artist depicted should be the booth itself. Placing a mirror in front of the camera I indicated that I’d like an oil painting in the style of Rembrandt. The resulting image shows a blurry, almost atmospheric, reproduction of the camera that photographs the subject, the screen where one watches their portrait being “drawn,” and the arrows indicating where to direct your gaze when capturing your pose.

After spending so much time and money obtaining these portraits I felt it only proper to protect and present them in a manner befitting their significance, so I purchased three plain, sale-priced wood frames from Aaron Brothers Art Mart and proceeded to pain-stakingly gild them in metal leaf. I cut two decorative mats for each image that complimented the antique luster of the frames. As for the informative sign that precedes the row of portraits, I printed it out on canvas paper, mounted it behind a scratched piece of plexiglass and set it in a bright red frame that was unceremoniously screwed to the wall. This presentation roughly approximated the way such signs are often presented on kiosks, carnival booths, and at bars.

Finally, each of the three portraits is underscored by the gallery tag placed beneath it on the wall. Each tag lists Leonardo, Rembrandt, or Portrait Studio as the artist, each title is Self Portrait except for the Portrait Studio printout which reads Self Portrait in the Style of Rembrandt, and all three list the supposed medium that they’re created with rather than ‘inkjet print.’ While this work obviously satirizes notions of artistic originality and authenticity in our culture, it also attempts to parody the display methods used to imbue art objects with preciousness, as well as to draw attention to some of the problematic notions or art engendered by Post-Modern and Conceptualist ideology.
For those of you who are visually inclined take a look below:

Leonardo da Vinci, Self Portrait, 2003

Portrait Studio, Self Portrait (in the style of Rembrandt), 2003

Jeffrey Baker, Self Portraits of the Masters, 2003



January 22, 2005

Like a person, the Photo Phazer has good and bad days. It will inexplicably drop bands of image data without reason.* This is one of my favorite effects, and I wistfully liken it to the scratches and bubbles that occurred on wet collodion plates in the early days of photography. For a while I seriously attempted to deconstruct the reasons for the glitches; testing my way through hypothesis about temperature, vibration, and battery life with no avail. In the end I lapsed into a zen-like acceptance of the Phazer's "Being" and allowed its unpredictability to remain unquantifiable. 

*The most dramatic example of the Phazer's mood swings resulted in this lovely little digital abstraction:


Center Stage

January 21, 2005

At some point I became a drama teacher. Bear in mind that, to date, I have never once acted in a play. But upon becoming an elementary school teacher I also took on children's theater because it was a school tradition. If I had known then what I know now about the complexity of stage productions I might not have dipped my toe in those turbulent waters. 

To date I have adapted The Little Prince, a selection of Aesop's Fables, and a mummer's play for the stage. Last year I had the exceeding good fortune to hand the directing and scripting reigns to a very talented parent who led the students through a hilarious Commedia dell'arte production. This year that same parent and I will tackle direction of the Mt. Everest of playwrights, the Bard himself, and his Midsummer Night's Dream

I have never been a strong student of Shakespeare but after only a few months of studying and rehearsing this one play I begin to have a sense of why he looms so large in the Western canon. It goes beyond the academic, beyond genre: Shakespeare requires so much of you as an actor or director that its impossible to relegate his words to ink on paper. You have to open up a chamber of your mind to him, and plant the meter and meanings there, so that they are ready for your retrieval and use. In short, Shakespeare is a language, and all the stories that have followed him are, in some way, indebted to his translation of humanity.



January 20, 2005

Just outside the hydrogen peroxide closet you could open a window to look down on the play yard at my first school. I always found this vantage point to be unnerving, and yet I often found myself standing there admiring the way the harsh California sunshine would carve crisp shadows out of the cement. 

* * * * *

As a teacher, I confess that I periodically miss that predictable sunshine. It made teaching about light and time so much easier. In Oregon it is much trickier to use the colors of sunrise and sunset as a teaching aide, because so often the entire sky is nothing by an endless sea of gray cloud and drizzle. Likewise, building a sundial in the Willamette Valley can be an almost comical exercise in futility nine months out of the year— the very same nine months that school is traditionally in session. On the flip side however, my current students never have to stay inside for recess because of astronomical pollutant levels and it's unlikely that they'll ever sit on the highway watching ash settle on the windshield with the silence of snow.*

*Although, if I recall correctly, 1980 did provide a very dramatic dispersion of ash in Oregon.



January 19, 2005

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind there resides an old photograph of the moon. Merged with the sepia-toned craters depicted in this photograph is the blurry portrait of a young woman, perhaps in her mid-twenties, smiling out into the darkness of space. She may be a nanny, or a young mother, I know not which, but the thought of her grants me a touch of calm, and I think that this photograph must have been with me at some point, in some lifetime or other.


So Rank, So Banal

January 18, 2005

What do you do when a really good idea gets rejected? You return to the table with the polar opposite of a really good idea: the excessively dumb idea. An idea so rank, so banal, that its very existence is an insult to consciousness and thought. You bring this wretched display of mediocrity forth as a reaction to your initial rejection. It reveals your pettiness and condescension towards those that deemed it necessary to pass on your genius. If they won't have the steak, they can dine on the hoof. . .

On January 18, 2005 I sketched out my second, and final, submission for a Rose Parade float concept. The design of the previous year had consisted of a collection of family portraits in assorted frame styles. The images in the frames spanned a period of time chosen to match the decades that the city hosting the design contest had been in existence. It was tasteful, nostalgic, and thematically accessible. I labored over that first design for a week before sending it off.  It was rejected for a dancing animatronic cactus.

I funneled my indignation into the second design, which I resolved to make as inane as possible. There would be a group of fat hippos undertaking a new year's resolution of weight loss. They would be exercising under the watchful eye of their new trainer, a buff alligator with shifty eyes. This sad display would take place under a tree where some birds (possibly Kookaburra, this detail was to be decided later) would be laughing at the sad spectacle below them. With this design I could riff on California's new Governator and the narcissistic pre-occupation with self-image that is so deeply entrenched in California culture. It was clearly a horrible design that no one in their right mind would select.

Which was true. It was rejected, as it should have been. God only knows what won.



January 17, 2005

I love lines. I especially love organic lines. Ergo, I love brambles and branches. I photograph them with an almost obsessive compulsion.

I photograph them with the Photo Phazer. I photograph them with the Lensbaby. I photography them with the D80, and I occasionally photograph them using the light meter.

I photograph them when I walk. I photograph them while I talk. I photograph them in a car. I photograph them wherever I are.

I think you get the point.



January 16, 2005

Otis College of Art and Design occupies the former IBM building in Los Angeles. It's an intriguing building and is in keeping with the architectural inclination of the 1960's toward stark cement cubes. The exterior facade is meant to be reminiscent of a punch card; which I suspect is lost on the majority of current Otis students who were undoubtedly born long after punch cards, or IBM for that matter, had much life left.

Image by Marc Meridith, OTIS Director of Admissions
Courtesy of Wikipedia and licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Naturally, the interior has been remodeled to match our stereotypical conception of the artist loft, but I think the greatest success of the building is not in the exterior view or the elaborate remodel. No, the greatest asset of OTIS is the views it frames of the outside world.

Inside this cold concrete block the dingy Southland sky seems to burst through the tiny rectangular windows and, in doing, is granted a liveliness and power that you cannot perceive from any other vantage point that I've discovered in LA. It is a simple matter of contrast— a living proof of that old photographic axiom that the finest silver gelatin prints always place their blackest black next to their lightest light tone. 

While I can't claim any advanced understanding of architectural principles I can claim many years of working with contrast, and furthermore, I have an appreciation for simple solutions that net profound results. For those who haven't called LA home, who haven't been able to see the city skyline from a hill top vantage only five miles away because of air pollution, it is undoubtedly difficult to understand the magnitude of being awakened to beauty in that chemical miasma. But for someone who, quite literally, grew up in a cloud of chemicals and particulate, I tell you that, until the day I visited OTIS, the only potential for the sublime that high noon smog ever held for me was in its unyielding repulsion.*

I'm of the opinion (and it is a rather plebeian opinion, I admit)** that cement cubes are generally not the best architectural solution for most projects or climates. In Southern California, where the heat is oppressive and banal boxy buildings are the majority, I suppose you can make a case for a cement cube on the grounds that it will stay cool and affably blend in with the neighbors. But if I'm to dissect what I appreciate about OTIS's building it is the opportunities it affords for the eye to escape when the body cannot, and perhaps that, more than balances of compositional light and darks, is what creates the impression that the oppressive grey outside holds more promise than one had ever perceived there before.

*More of a formaldehyde-soaked Damien Hirst type of sublime, as opposed to the sweeping Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich 

**I spent every afternoon following middle school studying in a cement cube, so experience must serve as my credentials here.


The McDuff

January 15, 2005

What I appreciate about this image is how the lower curve of the garden hose echos the curve of McDuff's back. Any guesses, dear reader, as to what a McDuff happens to be?* 

*Family members are not eligible to guess.


The Sweep

January 14, 2005

I don't often get to be the passenger. When I am, even the most familiar routes seem infused with novelty. Tunnels and bridges hold a special fascination during night time drives. With tunnels I love the sudden entrapment of sound around the car and the rush of lights on a parallel, but opposing, trajectory with mine. Bridges at night afford a sweep up into darkness that I always find extremely comforting. 


Lipstick on a Pig

January 13, 2005

At a certain point I realized that the fidelity of my Photo Phazer images were a bit sub-par compared to other pixel based imagery I was viewing on the net. I found myself second guessing the naive profundity of the low-tech photograph and turned to Photoshop to elevate my washed out bits and bytes to sublime documentation. 

What these movie stills really needed, I decided, was some more saturation and a liberal dose of "film grain" to wash away the mushy tones and geometric pixilization.* After some cheap employment of filters and sliders to a few images I realized that you can't just put lipstick on a pig. So I put aside all insecurities and consoled myself with the thought that when the entire project would be exhibited quantity would more than compensate for any lack of image quality.

Little did I know that only Blogger would be exhibiting this project. Welcome back dear insecurities!

*Is pixilization a word? It seems to be used freely by people griping online about LCD picture quality, but I would hardly deem that authoritative proof.


Nom Nom Nom

January 12, 2005

It are my birthday.


Chilled Out

January 11, 2005

At some point the world's longest kitchen remodel yielded a shiny new fridge. The fridge signaled the end of an era back in 2005. No more outdoor meals from the hot plate. No more yellowjackets in the stew. Plastic cutlery was bid adieu.

Many a member of the household was thrilled with all that the new refrigerator promised on the culinary front. Being a simpleton, I just appreciated the play of pretty patterns across the stainless steel surface. 

A few days before the Christmas tree came down I spied the reflection of its lights in the door of this high-tech ice box and immediately activated the Photo Phazer

This was one of my favorite one-minute movies in 2005. It was simply me moving the camera back and forth along a short horizontal path so that different bands of colored reflection grew and shrank, appeared and disappeared, in an illusionary journey atop the metal door.

* * * * * 

Soon after that I would watch the mesmerizing work of Jeremy Blake in Punch Drunk Love. It seemed I wasn't entirely alone in my aesthetic preoccupations. Or, out of deference for his preeminent superstardom, I should say that Jeremy Blake wasn't alone in his. 



January 10, 2005

Shaving is a paradox for me. It affords me an opportunity to relax and reflect, and yet I tend to avoid doing it. Perhaps I'm afraid that too much relaxation and reflection will rob me of valuable time to feel stressed and proactive.


Take a Guess

January 9, 2005

I should be embarrassed to admit how many photographs like this I've taken. What reality presents as a sublime play of light across some surface often translates into an indistinct image of mushy color. It would be wonderful if I could reveal some profound little story about what is actually depicted here, but I have to say that time and geography have robbed me of any context, so your guess is as good as mine.


Candlelight Within, Magnolias Without

January 8, 2005

While living in the LA area our rooms were on the second story of the house. When you looked out the windows, our sight line was in the center of a wooded canopy. The large waxy magnolia leaves would reflect the shifting patterns of light and the vast quantity of diminutive oak leaves would shimmer like green sequins when touched by the coastal breezes and Santa Ana winds. To wake up in the warm California morning amidst the tree tops was a delight that I won't forget, and I greatly miss the sound of the leaves rustling about just outside our balcony patio door.

* * * * *

Now I wake to the sound of air-braking trucks on the highway that runs along a small hill top outside our front door. It isn't all that bleak, as I can often trick myself into thinking that the persistent hum of traffic is the flow of a river (which, metaphorically, I suppose it is), but it has none of the sensory charm that our oak grove bower held, and I look forward to the day when the sound of birds rustles me from sleep more frequently than the sound of horns.



January 7, 2005

This worn trike sat in a downpour because it had nowhere to hide. The entire play yard of my first school was concrete surrounded by a high chain link fence. The fence kept out vandals and provided a clear division between child's recreation space and parking lot. 

I found it depressing.

But I'm an adult and don't have the elasticity of spirit that a child has. The play yard may have been cement but it rarely lacked games and laughter. Only when the infrequent downpour pounded the ground did the space take on the same drab aura to the children that I regarded it with everyday. 



January 6, 2005

There are albums that wrap themselves into your life. You hear them, and they etch your consciousness with their notes and refrains. I won't presume to say that they give different moments in life meaning, but they can provide the spirit, and without them a great deal of emotional complexity would be absent from our biographies.

I look at the play of light vaguely illuminating the chunky pixellated black in the image above and remember being warmed by the plaintive tones of Dinah Washington's album of old standards. Sitting in a low-slung arm chair watching the reflected light swim across the wavy surface of the spinning LP I listened to This Bitter Earth:
And if my life is like the dust
that hides the glow of a rose,
what good am I?
Heaven only knows.
. . . and I thought that Dinah's voice was a comfort preserved. It was meant for me to find for a $1.00 at the local thrift store so that I could experience it while the January moon came out over the magnolia leaves.


The Red Pen

January 5, 2005

My current students are waiting for the day when I chronicle my teaching experience in a book. I'm told that this book should be entitled, The Red Pen

I am known for using the red pen liberally on student work. I underline the first letter of every uncapitalized proper noun with three parallel red lines. I indicate words to delete with a red flourish and missing periods fall from the ballpoint like rain. As my students advance in years I even periodically employ the dreaded "awk." in the margin. Awk.— it is, in itself, an awkward editing mark that somehow always makes sense to the editor, but often requires copious amounts of clarification with the writer. 

At this point I've spent untold hours of my life with a red pen in hand. I've stayed up late and awoken horribly early to use this stalwart editing device. It has been employed on planes, trains, and automobiles. Even as I type this there awaits a stack of composition books eager for editing marks and regardless of what other tasks may be at hand, you can be sure that the red pen and I will carve out some time today to oblige them.


Star Trek Reference Ahead

January 4, 2005

I wouldn't normally be an advocate of trying to film while driving on the freeway, but in LA there are hours of the day where traffic moves so slowly (i.e. not at all) that the only thing you risk in doing so would be the suspicious looks of your fellow commuters. In retrospect, I suppose the Photo Phazer could be misconstrued as a firearm (which sadly aren't all that uncommon on the LA highway system) or, at the very least, a phaser. On this evening my Phazer was set to "Sun". . .

I'm going to stop typing now.

This is my worst blog post ever.


Le Couloir

January 3, 2005

The doorway to my first classroom is on the left of this photograph. It was located in a decaying Methodist Church in Southern California. There were many times that I walked this hall and would look up at the glowing red EXIT sign thinking, "I know nothing about Sartre." 

Perhaps this was brought on by the darkness of the hall or perhaps I was reacting to my employment at a French school. I doubt that it matters. I have yet to pick up any of his writings.

* * * * *

In the foreground darkness on the right side of the image there was a door to a long narrow room stacked with teetering piles of grimy keyboards and PC towers. An ancient man with a nicotine stained beard would periodically emerge from this room and gargle noisily with hydrogen peroxide in a small water closet down the hall. The water closet had been painted a dramatic orange many years ago, and when the sunlight pushed through the dingy window the thick peels of paint glowed tangerine. 

Even in its decrepitude that little room radiated color, but I learned to admire it from afar, finding the frequent presence of blood mixed with peroxide-spittle in the sink basin to be more reality than I cared to face.



January 2, 2005

As a child you think of adulthood as an opportunity for unmitigated freedom. As an adult you think the opposite.


Looking Back

January 1, 2005

Four years ago I resolved to undertake a daily practice. For one year I would capture a short film each day using my Photo Phazer. The Photo Phazer was my first digital camera. It was designed for children and took deplorable images that, at best, could be printed 4" x 6." It was also capable of taking 60 seconds of video, and by video I mean 60 crummy photographs in quick succession which were displayed one after another to create the illusion of video (essentially employing the same principle that creates the semblance of movement in animation).

These daily films were my first foray into cinema. They were silent. And they have been swallowed by the hard drive within the last PC I'll ever own. I'd hoped to share them with you, but in light of their corporeal absence, I can only offer you a single image from each film. 

You see, after downloading each minute-long movie into the PC, I'd isolate one shot of the sixty to use as a representative still if I ever managed to exhibit the project. As I neither possess the films any longer, a fact that only further entrenches my views about the danger digital media poses to the historical record, nor did I manage to keep up with the demands of making a daily film beyond May of that year, I fear that the only exhibition of this five month obsession will be here.

Which is fine. I'll walk you through a few memories and you can marvel at the banality of my: 
a) existence
b) aesthetic inclinations
c) photographic equipment
Although, I must confess that it is just those failings that make a few of these pictures compelling. Perhaps, over time, you'll come to agree.