Travel, History and Culture


Menaggio looking south on Lake Como

Setting aside the belief of many Catholics (I know many who do not hold this view) that everyone who is not (Roman) Catholic is unfortunate, doomed to go a terrible place after they die and that it is the duty of good Catholics to save these unwitting fools among even their friends, one cannot disregard the great influence that Christianity and the Roman Catholic religion have wrought among people through the centuries. There are the many wonderful innovations that in the West we collectively call civilization that many of us today enjoy.
Traveling through Western Europe rewards the traveler who appreciates culture, history and art and much of what he or she sees and admires has some connection with Christianity. In the southern countries that I especially enjoy visiting, the predominant religion since the fourth century of the Common Era has been Roman Catholic, Christianity as determined by the Bishop of Rome (no matter where he lived, which was not always Rome).
I am continuing to work on the photos I took during my travels to Europe. I always thought that I would look over these pictures and put together not only the memories of my visits but also somehow to connect with the history and culture of these places. Yet, every time I come home, I stow away the suitcases and shelve the books and mementos of the trip and hardly look at them again. Someday, I would think to myself, I’ll have the luxury of time to look at this. Someday I’ll have the time to put all the ideas and insights together, read my books and let imagination and reason roam through my whole life. I didn’t take into account how memory fails!
The area of Lake Como in Northern Italy, just miles from its boundary with Austria, was scene of much fighting through the centuries. The Romans called the area Lacus Larius (hence, the name of our hotel, Hotel Laria). It was after the powerful archbishop of Milan, Ambrose, appointed Bishop Felix at Como that evangelization took root steadily. This is the same Ambrose who was a major influence on an African-born Manichaean, Augustine of Hippo (now Islamic Algeria), whom he succeeded in converting and baptizing at Easter Vigils in 387. The two are also two of the four original Doctors of the Church as declared in 1928. The others were St. Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, and Pope Gregory I better known as Gregory the Great (540-604).
This is the same Gregory who wrote the earliest biography of Benedict of Nursia, whose Rule became the foundation for many Roman Catholic orders today. (The Carmelites with whom I had much beneficial contact in the 1980s and 1990s followed a Rule formulated by St. Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem. The Carmelites started on Mt. Carmel in Northern Israel.)  The Sixth Century in Western Europe were heady times. So much of what we take for granted today originated at this time.
I’ll end with a vignette about St. Ambrose. He was a politician and governor of the Roman province that included Milan. When that powerful city’s bishop died, he went to the church where succession was being debated among Catholics and Arians to prevent the breakout of violence. Instead the people there acclaimed him as the next bishop. At the time Ambrose was not even a priest! He dodged the crowd and hid at a friend’s house. When the emperor himself supported his election, he relented. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle, gave his money to the poor, donated his lands and asked his brother to take over the care of his family. Some like Paul (then called Saul) and Augustine of Hippo, come to conversion through mystical experiences; others through circumstances beyond their control, which I suppose can be the same thing.




A Good Image Plus Post-Production

Producing a good photograph results from two learning two crafts: the technicalities of using a camera, lenses, settings, and lighting and the aesthetics of appealing composition, structure, color, and emotionality.

Producing a good image results in turn from learning two crafts: producing a good photograph and learning post-production!

Nowadays, in an age where digital photography has clearly won the field, post-production is almost de rigueur. Just a year ago, professional photographers all chorused their deprecating remarks about using Photoshop to enhance their images. Now more and more of these professional photographers are coming out of the closet: post-production is becoming essential to make their images stand out in the crowd.

No doubt an image is only as good as the photograph taken by the photographers with his camera but post-production has a lot to say about what images finally look like. It’s the details that make or break a good product.

Again no doubt about it I am still on this learning curve, learning the tri-fold craft of creating a technically good photography, learning the aesthetics that goes hand in hand with learning the post-production to create the final image.

To top it all off, the greatest teacher is experience or the time I take to actually do the work. There are manuals and workshops to take, of course, and they are instrumental but nothing takes the place of what one learns simply by doing, and doing is risking. It’s all about trying, failing and learning from both trying and failing, and celebrating when somehow I get it!

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How My Photograpy Evolved from Minolta SLR, the Sony Mavica, to Canon DSLRs


Walking the Harbor at Mykonos at Sunset


My interest in photography first appeared when I bought a Minolta Maxxum 7000 in the mid-1980s. I took on a car trip to the Southwest and spent the time taking pictures of architectural details and flowers. To this day my memories of New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada are rooted in those pictures. When I showed them to my family, the universal question was: where are the people?

The next trigger came when Sony released the first commercial electronic still camera, the Mavica. When it started using the 3.5” 1.4 floppy drives that my Macintosh Computer also used I joined the bandwagon. The CCD sensor produced analog signals so this was not a digital camera but I was entranced how turning the camera just degrees I could monitor the image on its LCD and capture images lit just so by natural light.

Digital photography really happened for me when Canon released the Digital Rebel, a consumer-level DSLR with interchangeable lenses, in 1990. The APS-C sized sensor was small but I felt like a professional taking pictures with my one zoom lens. I took that camera to NYC where I promptly short-circuited the lens mount when I threw in a ripe banana with the camera in my backpack. But I was already hooked to a big camera with manual capabilities although I still shot auto focus.

I used the Canon Rebel and a subsequent newer version on it on trips to Europe. It was producing JPG images and even when Camera Raw became available I still shot JPGs through 2008. In those early years I was usually the only one in the group shooting on digital cameras as we visited Spain, France, and Italy. My tour mates were all in awe of my photography although I was not using the full potential of manually setting the cameras. The chief advantage was being able to shoot dozens of pictures because I didn’t have to buy film!

Professional photography really became a reachable, desirable goal when I shot my first model in May 2008. Crouching on the floor to shoot Kaleb against the brand-new white vinyl background in my living room I thought to myself: this is what I want to do. For the first time ever in my life, and I dramatize only slightly, I was doing something that made electricity flow through my brain, hair stand on my body, and visions of finally coming to my own filling my overwrought mind.

2010 brought other innovations. I started shooting in Camera Raw in 2009 and in 2010 started shooting exclusively in manual mode. I bought my first Alien Bees and radio triggers and discovered shooting with natural light and without the elegant white background. This fall I shot outdoors with surprisingly good images. I’ve been watching CreativeLive workshops on photography which has immensely added to technical and creative savvy.

I think 2011 is the year I’ll break into commercial operation. We’ll just have to see. I still have much to learn about photography. I can finetune my choice of lens and lighting is always a great challenge. There are also tricks of trade such as those that Jeremy Cowert demonstrated that he used for creating album covers for bands. The possibilities continue to grow.

Jack Kerouac and the Role of Wild and Joy in Attempting Art

Black-and-white Me

I’ve been growing a beard, something I had never done before. I wanted to take a picture of myself but this is tricky even with the Canon remote trigger. It was hard to get the light right. This is one of about 20 pictures I took. I like it but this was not what I had originally envisioned. On the other hand my best images are often unplanned ones, pictures that somehow appear in the corral along with the tame cattle and they are the wild ones.

Jack Kerouac listed 30 items on his Belief & Technique for Modern Prose. Among the items: “Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy.”

But getting the wild ones is not so easy. One struggles corralling the tame but resistant ones first, doggedly, believing despite failure and incomprehension that a wild one or two must appear. And sometimes one or two does appear and they make all that senseless effort worthwhile!

Many of the photographers I admire shoot black and white. One of these days I’ll create a black and white portfolio. There is something both somber and elegant when color is stripped from the image and all we see are shades of black into white. It’s as minimalist as one could get. I’ve perceived the Filipino personality and the society it has created as color and drama and movement as bewildering as a fighting cock; I want something different, something that is closer to my own spirit, the space within me that I must fill with life.

A classmate from medical school promoted my site to our classmates. They graduated in 1970; I finished in 1972.  I am grateful that they want to make me feel I am part of the group but the truth is I never felt I belonged either to this group or to any other group in my growing-up years. Even today I mostly walk my own beat, my own sometimes lonely road. It’s okay. It’s not so bad. It’s my road, my life, it’s what I have to work with and we each work with what we are given. We make the most of it and sometimes we draw that wild card that makes the lonely walk less lonely. We walk in the clouds once in a while and that is enough.

I felt different my whole life. I probably added to this feeling as I got older and learned to appreciate how being different was my unique being. The sense of being different stems largely from living so much in my inner world that doesn’t accept the barriers most other people see as barriers – between the sexes, between religions, between nations and cultures, between ages, between the conventional divisions of knowledge and art into which we’ve divided the world of experience.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have both time and space to indulge this inner world, which in itself is blessing enough. I just somehow think the rest of the world might be blessed as well if I can effectively communicate some of my world with the outside.