Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anxious for 2012


  [angk-shuhs, ang-]  
full of mental distress or uneasiness because of fear of danger or misfortune; greatly worried; solicitous: Her parents were anxious about her poor health.
earnestly desirous; eager (usually followed by an infinitiveor for ): anxious to please; anxious for our happiness.

I go into 2012 an anxious man, second meaning.  This has been an exciting year, one of pushing boundaries and taking risks.  I've enjoyed making big decisions and seeing a thousand little actions lead to new places.  I'm anxious to make more decisions, push things in new directions and then see those results.  Let's do this.

2011 was great.  

Here's to making 2012 even greater.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My "Special" Family Traditions

Hello again
Yesterday morning I took a series of way too early flights from Columbus to Cleveland to New Orleans.  After getting in and fighting through the mental haze one acquires after attempting to function on two hours of sleep, I laid down thinking about the last ten days or so.  Being around multiple families for the holidays gave me a chance to look at the vast differences that family dynamics can take on.  The simple act of holiday gift giving takes on a variety of forms from group to group.  Some families don't do gifts, some know exactly what they're getting, some are all surprises.  Somewhere along the way, my sister, Jennifer, and I decided to forego giving each other real gifts, instead attempting to outdo each other with some sort of gag gift.  Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborately planned, there have been a few good ones over the years.

I've had something of a photo theme to a lot of my gifts.  They started one year when I scoured my mother's photo albums for all of the absolute worst pictures of my sister.   Those pictures that only a mother would put into a photo album.  Those pictures that would make you question her chromosome count. That year I gave her a framed collection of these terrible pictures, sort of an all-in-one reminder of her worst moments in front of the camera over the years.  While this gift succeeded in that it was hilariously terrible to look at, it did include a functional picture frame, and therefore lost points as a gag gift, which I think should be as useless as possible for the recipient.  

Since I'd already amassed a "worst-hits" photo collection, I stepped it up a bit the next year.  I took the four worst pictures I had, printed them onto sheets of iron on material, and made four t-shirts with her face front and center.  The next step was getting my parents involved.  I gave each of them one of the shirts to wear under a sweater Christmas morning, while I wore the third.  The fourth was lovingly wrapped and presented to Jennifer.  My co-conspirators and I all hid our shirts from view until she opened hers.  As she held the shirt up in the air to snicker in disgust, we revealed ours.  I don't know what she did with her shirt, but I still wear mine every Christmas morning.  

Another year I took probably the worst of the photos I had of her and printed off a couple hundred 2x3" copies.  A little time Christmas Eve and a lot of scotch tape later I had hung these little gems throughout the entire house, even venturing out to hide some in her car for later.  As hard as she may have tried to collect them, they were still getting discovered days later.  My extended family came over for Christmas day festivities and was immediately asking why there were little pictures all over the place.  What, other siblings don't do that?

Probably the greatest of my gifts was also one of the simplest for me to do.  The thought - what would be a gift that keeps on giving?  Something subscription based and terrible a la the jelly of the month club in Christmas Vacation.  Since I actually like jelly, I opted to scour an online magazine seller for the most obscene publication I could find.  So on Christmas morning she unwrapped a box, the only contents of which being a printout confirming her one year subscription to Plumpers magazine.  Plumpers, in case you're unaware, is basically a porno magazine featuring ladies in the 300+ pound range.

While the hope was that the magazines would arrive when she had polite company over and be delivered by a disgusted mail carrier, the best part of the story was when she moved out of her apartment.  For some really odd reason, she had saved the past issues of Plumpers (for the articles I assume).  Upon moving, she finally put them in a box destined for the garbage.  So what happens when you're dragging your shoddy box overloaded with refuse and niche porno mags to the dumpster? The box breaks open, the contents spilling onto the pavement.  Luckily you have a friendly but suddenly very confused neighbor come over to help you repack your box of collected Plumpers.  I can only hope that the next tenant continued to get the remainder of her subscription.

Her comeback was a gift that on the surface might look nice.  A serene picture of a nice beach.  Alas, the beach picture lifted up to reveal an exhaustive collage of very male and very explicit body parts.  My dad thought we needed to have a conversation after he saw the internet history on the computer Jennifer used to find and print the pictures.  My grandparents happened to be over that Christmas morning when I opened this gem, and they insisted on taking a gander at the gift.  They were far too interested and not nearly shocked enough when they took a nice long look at it.  I can't wait to get to the point when nothing you say or do matters because you've been around long enough to not give a fuck.  Anyway, this picture made annual reappearances, finding its way into my bed and into my shower of all places.

It's difficult to remember some of the things we've exchanged over the years.  Apart from the few elaborate ones, there was the roll of toilet paper, lump of coal, cat furballs, cat poop, dirt, banana peals, string of penis beads, boxes of whatever garbage happened to be in the trashcan at the time.  One year I wrapped up her car keys.  She had to find the car. This year she gave me a freshly soiled diaper, sort of a regift from my nephew.

This year I figured I'd reverse the terrible picture trend I had used so often.  My sister just had a baby (eight months ago) and I'm a thousand miles a way.  I didn't want my nephew to grow up not knowing what his uncle looked like, so I gave Jennifer a nice 20x30" print of myself to hang in his room or prominently above a mantle somewhere.
Believe it or not, it actually took a fair amount of work to get a combination of facial contortions that made me look most troll-like.  If my nephew did see it now, he'd probably cry think and wonder who the scary creature in the picture is.  As he gets older, maybe he'll come to see it for what it is; a shameless guy who rather enjoys acting like an idiot and taking pictures.

I'm coming to love these traditions that celebrate finding more and more sophisticated ways to act stupid.  People ask "You don't get each other real gifts?"  What is a "real" gift?  We might not have useful "stuff" after Christmas, but we have a good laugh, and we have stories to tell.  I can only be thankful that I have family and friends and a wife that haven't had me committed yet, and that they can act crazy right back.  Thanks guys.  That's a real gift.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Phishing for gems from the spam folder

Now and then a legitimate email gets misdirected to my email's spam folder.  Most of the time it's all crap that I don't want to waste even a fraction of a second glancing over, but I've had some annoyingly close calls with stuff getting stuck there so it's worth scanning once a week.  Again, mostly crap.

The following emails are not crap.  They're better than crap.  They're phishing scams that, were I in a position to waste hours of my life, I would really love to respond to and lead these guys on with elaborate falsehoods of my own.  One of my many talents is inventing realistic sounding names of companies.  Hell, with a couple hours and a few bucks, the properly motivated reverse-prankster could create websites, alternate email identities, and give real physical addresses (to real abandoned properties) to these asshats that are hoping to catch the two people alive that haven't seen the 60 Minutes special on these scams.

I'm not that motivated, but here are a few nice messages I've gotten in the last month or so.  Feel free to respond, but if any money changes hands, I'll need a 15% finders fee.  My barrister in Lagos will collect the appropriate information from you.

The Trusty Trustee
Partner 72 Avenue Ouaga
Burkina Faso

Good Day ,

This is a personal email directed to you and I request that it be treated as such.
I am Barrister Paparazy, a solicitor at law. I am the personal attorney/sole executor to the late Dr. George , hereinafter referred to as’ my client' who worked as an independent oil magnate in my country and who died in a car crash with his immediate family on the 4th of Oct,1998. Since the death of my client in Oct, 1998, I have written several letters to the embassy with intent to locate any of his extended relatives whom shall be claimants/beneficiaries of his abandoned personal estate and all such efforts have been to no avail.

Moreover, I have received official letters in the last few weeks suggesting a likely proceeding for confiscation of his abandoned personal assets in line with existing laws by the bank in which my client deposited the sum of 18.5 Million United States Dollars.

On this note I decided to search for a credible person and finding that you bear a similar last name, I was urged to contact you, that I may, with your consent, present you to the "trustee" bank as my late client's surviving family member so as to enable you put up a claim to the bank in that capacity as a next of kin of my client.

I find this possible for the fuller reasons that you bear a similar last name with my client making it a lot easier for you to put up a claim in that capacity. I propose that 50% of the net sum will accrue to you at the conclusion of this deal in so far as I do not incur further expenses.

Therefore, to facilitate the immediate transfer of this fund, you need, first to contact me via email signifying your interest and as soon as I obtain your confidence, I will immediately appraise you with the complete details as well as fax you the documents, with which you are to proceed and i shall direct on how to put up an application to the bank.

However, you will have to assent to an express agreement which I will forward to you in order to bind us in this transaction.

Upon the receipt of your reply, I will send you by fax or E-mail the next step to take. I will not fail to bring to your notice that this proposal is hitch-free and that you should not entertain any fears as the required arrangements have been made for the completion of this transfer. Like I said, I require only a solemn confidentiality on this.

Best regards,
Barr.Paparazy Esq.
The Lucky Lottery Winner 
Name: Barrister.Renny Harlings
1.Full Name:
2.Full Address:
For Your Wonderful Work With The UN
You are to contact Dr Jacek Slotala of Bank Zachodni via his e-mail
address: jacekslotala@LIVE.COM with the below information for the
claim of your United Nations Compensation Bank Draft of $550,000.00
Full Names (Surname First).......
Current Address...................
Occupation ......................
Telephone #..............

Contact him immediately with the requested information above for your
International Bank Draft of $550,000.00 USD.
Benjamin Jon for Gen Ban Ki Moon
Secretary General (UNITED NATIONS)
The Unordered Package
This is a post notification,

Your parcel has arrived at the post office on October 7.
Our Driver was unable to deliver the parcel to your address.
Please print out the invoice copy attached and collect the package at our office.

Thank you,
FedEx Customer Services.

Guess what happens when you click on the attachment.  My money says that it's not an invoice...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Four weekends, four cities

Have you ever had one of those periods where you've been traveling almost every week and you feel like you left a little of your mind in every place you've been?  My last four weekends have been spent in Charlotte, New Orleans, Lafayette, and Columbus.  I'm looking forward to a low key weekend before what is sure to be another great Halloween in New Orleans.  After that, a few days in Florida to shoot a wedding, followed by a very busy November.  

Stuff from the last month that's still floating around in the old brain...  
I'm still processing info from After Dark Charlotte

Results of a visit to the Tabasco plant.

Band playing directly in front of the wall of the room where we slept in Lafayette.  
This car rear ended me. 
Engagement shoot on the OSU campus. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rediscovering the lost art of play

A week ago I had the extreme pleasure of going to After Dark Education in Charlotte.  Expensive trip, sure, but as I've spent the last week just trying to sort out all the things that I saw, it should prove to be money well spent.  After Dark is a collection of about 35 different photographers that come together to teach everything from studio basics to advanced business topics.  Over three days, you get to pick what you want to learn and who you want to see to get the most out of the experience.  It's all about getting up close with the mentors to talk, ask, and play.  This isn't your typical corporate conference, unless you work in an industry that keeps going strong until 3am every day.  There were a few big points that I picked up on while I was there.

"I'm right, they're wrong."  There's the saying that there's more than one way to skin a cat.  My three days in Charlotte burned that into my mind.  From 1:30 to 3:15 I'd hear one teacher say to do something one way.  From 3:30 to 4:45 I'd hear another person say to do it a completely different way.  For the students looking for a black and white "this is how you do it," their heads were probably spinning.  There are a ton of variations you can throw into the way you photograph things.  If anything that should be encouraging.  All it means is that you need to experiment and do what works for you.  The whole point is that you need to know exactly why doing things certain ways will get certain results.  

Why these people are "professionals."  Everybody has a camera now.  There are 250 million pictures uploaded to Facebook every day.  It's easy to think that since we have the tool, we're right up there with the big guys.  I'll tell you as somebody who has read countless books and taken huge numbers of pictures, that the difference between "I have a shiny new camera" and "I'm a professional" is bigger than you'd imagine.  I saw more than one teacher at After Dark look at a subject and estimate the proper aperture/iso/shutter settings within 1/3rd of a stop.  There's a big difference between creating an image in your head and using tools to bring it to life and using tools to just hack away at something.

"Go play"  I've used this phrase before and I love that it was used at After Dark.  Think about "play" as a child might.  It's that sense of uninhibited creativity that we're after.  Do things that you've never done, go places you've never gone, imagine, create.  Grab lights, a model, a piece of rental equipment, and go to the roof, or to the parking lot, or to a peddle boat.  The corporate world spent four years squeezing the sense of "play" out of me, so it was amazing to rediscover that feeling.  The great thing about "play" as an adult is that now I can infuse things like discipline and technical knowledge into the game to push things further and learn more from the experience.

The world is full of exciting possibilities.

Go play!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Fatty Photographs

My trip through the small town south yielded enough images that I got one on the cover.  It's not National Geographic, but it's still something of a milestone knowing that the first thing people will see on newsstands is your work in nice glossy print.  This is a first step, a confidence booster that says "hey, that wasn't so bad, let's do more."  It's also nice knowing that some of the little shops I took the pictures in sell this magazine, so they'll get to talk about their features and show off to their customers.

This week I'll be heading back out to Lafayette for a couple of nights.  There's a party I'm photographing and then I'll be out looking for trouble and/or non-trouble related interesting things to take pictures of.  Charlotte last weekend, Lafayette this weekend, Ohio next weekend.  Look for more photo-awesomeness soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I've never missed a kick

In general, people who watch football games on TV are all pretty good at telling the players and coaches what they're doing wrong.  If the stupid running back would've just cut left...  If the kicker would've made that simple 43 yard field goal from the left hash into the wind in the snowstorm...  Yes, we all know what to do, and if we just had a shot on the field, we could show'em how to do things right.

As it turns out, this stuff isn't that easy.  That might explain why there are so few players and so many spectators.  Last week we got a chance to walk the field, make some passes, catch some balls, and kick some field goals.  With no technique or practice, and a couple glasses of wine in them, the success rate for most people from 10-15 yards out was pretty low.  The ball would end up a few feet off the ground, to one side or the other, or shanking off into the pass throwing activity's area.

Personally, I never missed a kick.  Some people might bring up the fact that I didn't attempt a kick and regurgitate that motivational "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take" stuff.  My stance is that given my near complete lack of athletic ability, my miss rate would be about 100% anyway, so why bother?  At least now I get to say that I never missed and then quickly change the subject.

I did have fun watching other people attempt some kicks.

And another attempt.  Note where the ball ends up in the last picture.  

I didn't switch in a picture from another series, I swear.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Business advice from Big Head

The agenda for Tuesday
I've been away from the corporate world for two months now.  As I sit and think, it doesn't seem like I've done much or made much forward progress.  But then I look at the easel with my giant notepad full of stuff to do.  Pages full of lists, most of them with items crossed out as completed.  In a couple of months I've become a legitimate business with local, state, and federal tax IDs.  I have a bank account, an accountant, and a registered trade name.  I have all sorts of insurance and can take credit card payments.  There are Photo Steevo ads running in print and online.  I've gone from working with one other photographer to three.  I've sold big prints, signed wedding contracts, and have a cover shot on an upcoming magazine.  I'm going to Toastmasters meetings and getting involved with the New Orleans Photo Alliance.  In the next two months, business will take me to North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida.

There's a little corner store two houses down from me run by a Vietnamese guy who calls himself Big Head.  It's a simple, cash only business, but it's his.  When we got to talking about me starting my business, he gave me one piece of advice - be patient.  Things will not always go as quickly or in the direction that you expect, but keep at it.

When meeting with my accountant to talk about how messy my taxes are going to be, she responded to my self loathing about this year's drop in income with "be patient, you're a startup."

Every day I wake up and look at how far I am from where I want to be.  Every day I have to remind myself to be patient.  The list above doesn't show any individual giant leaps forward, but taken together, the items show a gradual increase in forward momentum.

This is me being patient.

And this is me going to buy an energy drink from Big Head.  There's so much that I want to do...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's Raining Men - Southern Decadence

Labor Day weekend brought three days of rain.  Non. Stop. Rain.  Not that something like a tropical storm or a hurricane could put a damper on the Southern Decadence celebrations.  In 2008 when Hurricane Gustav was approaching the city, the only party still going on was Southern Decadence.  While deciding whether or not to brave the rain this year I checked the festival's website and its statement "It's raining men" was too funny for me to not go to the parade.  Here's some of what I saw. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's 130 days after Mardi Gras, let's celebrate with a parade!

I love talking to friends and family in Ohio about all the stuff that goes on down here in New Orleans.  Last weekend was Midsummer Mardi Gras.  They ask what Midsummer Mardi Gras is and I tell them that it's the "six months after Mardi Gras" parade starting on Oak Street.  I never really thought about it like that before, but you gotta respect the city that marks time between festivals and holidays by having more festivals.

Guys - Put on something fabulous and grab your boyfriends because Southern Decadence Festival is next.
-10 points for our lack of costume planning.  +10 points to the photo bomber in the background.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stinking like pork fat and loving it.

Yesterday I ventured west of New Orleans, through Baton Rouge, and into the outskirts of Lafayette, Louisiana.  The mission - stop by five different meat shops, slaughterhouses, and delis to photograph a staple of southern health food, the cracklin.  Admittedly, cracklins aren't the most photogenic of foods, being that they're essentially fried chunks of pig skin.  As much as I love taking pictures and working through issues such as unflattering subjects, the road trip itself was even more fun.

I hate driving.  There's no point in softening that statement.  My wife will tell you that I have trouble sitting still and fidget constantly, so being forced to sit in a chair with at least one arm and one leg dedicated to controlling a vehicle is akin to torture.  I try to lessen the pain by eating junk food and listening to lectures on tape (though most people would probably say that hearing recordings about diachronic linguistics would make the drive immeasurably worse).  Regardless of my distaste for piloting the car, a bag of beef jerky and two wrong turns later (thanks again Google Maps), I made it to the first stop.

The best part about these road trips?  Being able to walk into a small, family owned shop, start chatting, and within 30 seconds be on my way to the back of the house to watch them do what they do.  They're usually excited about any sort of exposure which certainly helps, but something tells me I couldn't do that if it were a corporately owned business I was walking into.  These people cared.  I got a slew of stories from the owner of the slaughterhouse. The others were glad to say why their products were special, while throwing the occasional jab at the competition.  Keeping in mind that I was shooting pictures in fully operation shops during lunch hour, everybody was incredibly nice and accommodating.

I got to see things cooked and cooled and packaged.  I swapped stories with people whose accents we perfect examples of south Louisiana cajun.  I got greasy pork fat splattered on my feet and clothes while seeing chunks of meat sizzle in giant pots.  Everybody gave me little paper bags with samples to take home.  Even before the two hour return trip, all of the bags were soaked through with grease and cajun spices.  The car smelled like a meat shop the whole way back, but is was definitely a great day on the road.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dudes (and ladies) in dresses: Red Dress Run 2011

I had a great time at the Red Dress Run this year, despite some communications issues that led to there not being much of an actual run.  As usual, the crowds took liberal interpretations of what constitutes a "red dress" to make for some hilarious, beautiful, and downright disgusting sights.  I would've stayed in the quarter later into the evening, but I think the folks at the black tie gala that I photographed right afterward are glad I showered first.

Meet Romeo.  Partier, lady killer, ...bird. 
Mrs. Mad Hatter
There's a fine line between what dancing and stripping looks like.
Your earrings really bring out the color in your mustache.  
This off the shoulder piece allowed the meat cleaver tattoos to shine.
Lesson for festival goers:  Liquor results in less urine than beer.
Holding the swings while the kids waited in the beer line.
Why there are currently no red dresses in any stores within 30 miles of the city.  
The Red Dress... hula hoop?
"Dude, I'm serious.  Put on a dress and meet me in the French Quarter."
It's good to see our nation's first people represented.  
...sorry, man, that's not your shade of lipstick.  
Yes, I know what's down there, please don't raise the kilt. 
Just a typical Saturday in New Orleans.