Sunday, August 29, 2010

A mention of The storm

It seems fitting that the fifth anniversary of Katrina has been accompanied by two days of constant rain. I can only imagine that the memories of the event are enhanced by the gloomy skies and ponds slowly filling the streets. I wanted to post a few pictures that I've collected from various trips around the city, but I don't feel qualified to say much else about this. I came to New Orleans a year and a half after Katrina, so I don't have any first person experiences of the storm itself. All the locals that lived through the event have their own stories; each unique and bordering on unbelievability. I could attempt to recount the stories I heard about houses pulled off their foundations, the herd of cows that drowned, the guy that had to swim half a mile to an overpass, the grandmother that returned to her home to find that the inventory of an adult novelty shop had floated its way into her attic. It wouldn't be the same coming from me. If you're really interested in hearing these stories, it's not hard to find examples from the locals that were here and can speak about things in the first person.

Monday, August 23, 2010

That's a lovely dress you're wearing, sir.

There are some situations that require you to adjust your definition of "normal" behavior. For example, the scene above might come across as abnormal if you weren't given the context. Personally, under normal circumstances I'd probably be crossing the street to avoid this guy, or at least staying very close to the cop. One guy in a red dress on a Saturday morning is weird. However, put that one guy into a crowd of over 7,000 men and women also in red dresses and what was once socially questionable suddenly becomes fun. Really, there aren't too many times when a guy can buy himself a dress, wear that dress in public, commend other guys on their dress choices, and still come across as masculine.

One thing I've come to appreciate more since moving to New Orleans is the therapeutic value of doing things that you wouldn't normally do. For opportunities of that sort -- this city is great.

A few photos from the Red Dress Run 2010.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A thousand pages of pointlessness

By no means would I call myself a conservationist. I don't generally go too far out of my way to reduce, reuse, and recycle. In the spectrum of "I live on a commune and share bathwater" to "I use baby whale oil to fuel my Hummer", I'm somewhere in the middle. If waste is caused in the course of some productive activity (I very broadly define this as "living"), so be it. However, when I see sheer gratuitous expenditures of resources for no purpose, then I get somewhat bothered.

The other day as I trudged up to my third floor abode I saw that the Phonebook Fairy (PF) had visited, dropping its three volumed tome at every door. The PF was even kind enough to lovingly place them in plastic bags so they wouldn't get wet. What a generous PF, delivering something I didn't want, don't need, and won't use, straight to my door. And, to my neighbors' doors on both sides. But wait, I don't have a neighbor on one side. Doesn't the PF have the same Santa-esque powers of knowing exactly who lives where? My parents lied to me!

Two days later and there were still bags of phonebooks in front of empty doors. It was at that point that I got a little grossed out by the practice of delivering 3.5 lbs of paper to nobody, so I non-chalantly scooped up a couple to use for my illustration. I'm sure I could collect loads more, but the apartment complex doesn't need a "creepy phonebook guy" scaring the residents. We've already got a "creepy high-socks guy" and "the people whose kids cry for hours". I think they moved...that situation wasn't really funny. Anyway, I like breaking things down (or adding them up) into comprehensible terms, so time for some numbers!

My group of apartments has a total of 1050 units. US Census data tells us that the average apartment vacancy rate in the New Orleans metro area is 15.3%. That would suggest that in my immediate area, there were 160 phonebook packages delivered to empty apartments. At 3 inches in height and roughly 3.5 lbs each, stacked they'd make a tower 40ft tall weighing 560 lbs. The only possible use these things could get is to demonstrate how much of a waste they are.

Let's take this further. How many of the phonebooks delivered to occupied apartments will actually get used? Here's a poll from early 2009, granted, it's probably biased due to the fact that people who do online polls probably also use the internet as a replacement for phonebooks. I'll be generous, and say that 25% of the phonebooks received get used at some point. In my apartment complex, that would mean that of the 890 book sets received, 668 go completely unused. Adding that to our earlier stack, we now have a pile of paper trash 207 feet tall, weighing about 2,900 pounds. I won't even bother multiplying this out for the other 20-30 thousand apartments in the New Orleans area, let alone include houses.

I can only shake my head and pen diatribes in reaction to this sort of waste. Phonebook Fairy, stop being a dendrocidal maniac. Your product is obsolete. There are much less wasteful methods of selling advertising for ambulance chasing lawyers.

Okay, okay. There's the caged adolescent in me that does remember all the fun times I had with the phonebook. Recordings of prank calls done by me and my friends are available upon request.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bites of Wisdom

I hate to say that I take things for granted, but I do. We all do. At some level it's necessary. If we looked at everything with its deserved level of respect and awe we'd be reduced to drooling and immobile dreamers. Sure, romantic in principle but not at all practical. I did have an experience yesterday that gave me pause to think about and appreciate a couple of things. What was the driver behind this quasi-epiphany? None other than the majestic ant.

While giving chase to Red Dress runners through Washington Park, I must have crossed through ant territory because I found myself feeling the stings of several mighty little mandibles; only on my left foot, and only about ten ants. I did what I'd imagine any normal person would have done, I squashed my attackers and went on my way. Unbeknownst to me, these were either genetically altered super-ants, or I've got a genetic susceptibility to ant spit.

Ten minutes later I felt light headed, had a weird rash spreading on my stomach and inner arms, and my ears and lips and fingertips felt swollen. I was probably about five ant bites away from allergic shock. That's not a feeling I've ever had before, and hope to never have again. Thanks to my photo companion and some kind elderly folks, I got some allergy medication and rest before wandering off to continue my picture taking. The rash didn't fully go away for another eight hours. It's amazing how much power little things can wield, especially considering that an ant is a feeble planet compared to a single bacterium or virus.

Maybe I've taken for granted that I'm normal (...relatively), with only a few idiosyncratic disabilities. I already knew that my skin had adverse reactions to contact with certain plants, I can't spend more than five minutes in direct exposure to the sun without frying, and now I know about the ants. Achilles had his heel, I've got my skin. Sometimes it takes a little pain to realize how good things normally are. So I've got crappy skin, but I've also got generally functional glandular, vascular, nervous, circulatory, muscular, and skeletal systems (I'm sure I missed plenty) that allow me to function within normal ranges on most fronts. Thanks mom and dad!

I thought about taking a picture of my foot the day after to show how gross and swollen it still looks, ....but then I'd have a picture of a gross and swollen foot on my blog and nobody wants that. Instead, here's a picture of some tiny ants carrying leaves that I took while hiking around a volcano in Costa Rica. Ants, by the way, are amazingly successful and adaptive creatures, worthy of a few minutes of reading. Respect the ant.

Words I Enjoy

Does anybody else have mental lists of words that you're sort of proud to know, love the meaning/sound/origins of, and wish you could use more often without getting funny looks? You know, those delightful polysyllabic inkhorn terms and foreign loan words that you know because you (a) obsessed over the verbal SAT or (b) picked up while cheating at online Scrabble. Here are two near the top on my list.

Sobriquet - soh-bruh-key - a nickname. I like the fact that it's an alternative word for nickname, which in itself is an alternative word for something; a nickname for a nickname.

Oubliette - oo-blee-et - a secret dungeon with an opening only in the ceiling, as in certain old castles. This one is great for its imagery and its origins. Derived from the french verb meaning to forget, it's easy to picture something or someone getting tossed into a dank room to be forgotten about. Not exactly a word I get to use in everyday speech, but it's good for a dousing of heavy imagery if the need arises.

I'll use this list as something I can add to if otherwise lacking writing topics. Maybe I should rephrase that. I'll add to it when I get too lazy to dive into more interesting topics. Oh, and for the record, I never took the SAT...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Here's to faking it

I got an email asking if I could get a last minute picture of a dish from an uptown bar this weekend. Of course I can! Never mind the fact that food photography is one specialization that I haven't yet attempted. My personal recipe for success is "Accept job, then learn how to do job."

A couple hours of reading and video watching and I was again struck by just how specialized everything can get. One video of a professional studio shoot showed a poor dish completely surrounded by a multitude of lights, mirrors, modifiers, and seemingly anything else that could be mounted on a boom arm and thrust in that direction. Couple that with the food stylists and assistants, and things began bordering on ridiculousness. I certainly respect the attention to detail required for superior quality, but I came to the conclusion that (1) I don't have all that stuff, (2) I'll be on location during business hours, and (3) I'm not getting paid enough to spend two hours setting up for one picture.

It aint gonna make the cover of Bon Appetit, but I got by on natural light and was in and out pretty darn quick. Hopefully the magazine's regular photographers keep being unavailable so I get thrown more opportunities for new things (and free post-shoot cocktails).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kings of keeping me awake

A full night of uninterrupted sleep is a gift only the occasional weekend can give. I do enjoy that wonderful feeling of nodding off with little on my mind and an unset alarm clock. I even enjoy those brief moments of waking, where reality is distinguished from dream just long enough to check the clock and make sure I don't have to stay conscious. Ahh, the sweet serenity of slumber.

Of course, I almost never get that feeling. Living in the south, even with regular spraying those ever resilient cockroaches still breach the walls of my apartment to scuttle around after the lights go out. Since they typically shy away from us big apes in the light, I probably wouldn't notice or care as they crawled around after hours. More often though, I'll wake at 5:00 a.m. to the crashes of my cats throwing their ample bodies around the room with complete disregard for their surroundings.

These cats are the undisputed kings of their three room jungle, although I don't quite understand their hunting habits. On all the nature shows I've seen, the predator normally goes for a quick incapacitation of the prey. They don't play games of catch, injure, release, catch again, paw around, release, retreat, stalk, pounce, release. I end up having to intervene and offer a merciful death by vacuum to the tortured insects. Even after the hunt is over I don't get to go back to sleep. The cats seem to think that prowling around howling for the next half hour will cause more bugs to appear for their entertainment.

Next time I'll follow them with my camera, so for my lack of sleep I'll at least have some nice cockroach pictures to post rather than whatever bugs these are. ***Yawn***

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Three good things.

Now and then, good things happen. Today there were three positive pieces of news - the oil leak was plugged (semi-permanently), California's Prop. 8 was ruled unconstitutional, and 34 more people with lots of money pledged to give 50% or more away. Two quick comments and one longer one.

(1) While I'm happy that the innovative solution of forcing dense crud down the hole was successful, the level of optimism about the situation in general seems a little early. Claims that only 25% of the oil remains come across as misleading. The full extent of the impact to environment and industry is still largely unknown. Don't start downplaying things now.

(2) Mr. Govt. - Stop sanctioning discrimination against a small portion of the population based on a larger portion's desire to impose their conservative "values" on others. This will likely end up with the Supreme one battle over, the war soldiers on.

(3) One of the most uplifting moments of my day is related to this link:
34 more people pledged to give away more money than you or I will ever see. With all the hate speech that goes around about "the wealthy" as if they're a tribe of baby stealing trolls, it's uplifting to see that some of them are actually trying to feed, clothe, educate, and promote innovation and entrepreneurship among the babies. These are generally people that weren't born m(b)illionaires, but they managed to claw their way to the extreme reaches of the bell curve. It really is worth reading their personal statements about why they're doing what they're doing. Hopefully this group keeps growing, leaving us with some well funded philanthropies rather than well funded offspring of the rich.

In thinking about other happy's a random picture of the Saints' Super Bowl ring!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mine has more megapixies than yours.

I've gotten a lot of questions in the last year about photography stuff. Among the most common I hear is "What (camera / lens / voodoo magic) do you use?" Most of the time, I'll regurgitate a shopping list of unnecessary equipment that I may or may not have and be on my way. Deep down I'll get that urge to scream out "Stop asking the wrong questions!" Instead of asking about what was used, ask how I did something.

I'm just an amateur that is making an effort to not suck entirely, but I've already crossed the boundary where I know that equipment will only do so much for you. Which camera should you use? Whichever one you know how to you (or are willing to read the manual). If you really care about trying to take purty pictures, then that ability will most likely come from lots of reading, lots of looking at pictures, and lots of practice. I've taken a few good and a lot of bad pictures with my new 5DmII. I've taken a few good and a lot of bad pictures with my 450d. I've taken a few good and a whole lot of bad pictures with whatever other point and shoots I've had on me over the years. Getting fancier gear will let you push the boundaries if you know what you're looking for. It will also let you create expensive garbage if it's underutilized (why spend four grand on a camera just to keep it locked on full auto??)

I spent a few months in Costa Rica in the beginning of 2007 and the only camera I had was a little Panasonic point and shoot. It was nice being able to travel with a backpack full of food and clothing rather than lenses like I'd end up doing today. Digging through those old files, there are quite a few images that I don't find entirely offensive. Come to think of it, some of the only pictures of mine that I've got hanging in my apartment are from my time traveling with a pocket sized camera. Just one example of squeezing decent results out of very little.

So fair warning, friends - next time I get asked what camera or lens I used in the creation of an image, I'll be responding with stories about magic devices being blessed by Marie Laveau or some other nonsense. My stories will entertain me and help you just as much as a serious answer up until you start asking the right questions. Until that welcome moment...