Roses or A Different Order of Real

Arron 9401c

I enjoy company but there’s a tradeoff. I am not as focused when I am with others. My mind is not as sharp; I don’t see things as clearly. When I have company I do as much of the work before they arrive. Once they arrive I know I’ll be scatter-brained. My sauces are watery, my salad dressing bland. So I learn to do the work that requires precision before the company arrives.

On the other hand, when I am with one person whose company I enjoy, another kind of energy arises. I am more social. I take more risks. I worry less, I enjoy more. I am not as productive but I am more creative in the delights of enjoyment. I think maybe creativity comes in different kinds. Artistic creativity, for instance, may benefit from company because we exchange ideas and compete with each other but the actual work of creating we do in the quiet of our solitude. An artist may be a gregarious person but when creating he withdraws into himself. He becomes antisocial. Company is a distraction as anything is that is not part of the production process. Even preparatory chores like cleaning the workspace or changing clothes or getting a glass of water feel onerous. Creative energy is a monomaniacal master, jealous and unforgiving.

Last night I watched two videos from David Nightingale’s workshop on creating black-and-white images. I still find using curves and masks in Photoshop unwieldy. I get lost trying to understand what it is that I am doing, for instance when I am “erasing” or using a black brush as opposed to using a white one, what I am actually doing to the pixels of the digital file.

I did manage to produce this image of Arron that was encouraging. Using curves adjustment is considered by some to be one of the most advanced techniques in photo-editing because you have to rely on how you see the image. It’s something we learn to use better as we use it more and get a feel for the effect we create manipulating various points on the “curve.”

Processing digital images is very much like painting. I am not trying to recreate “reality” but make the image have a similar impact on the mind and senses as the object I photographed and those are two different things!

Slowly I am getting to grasp this and slowly understand a little more about the so-called creative process. Imitating “real” objects is not what it means at first glance. An artist works with his own mind as much as with the “thing out there” that is inspiring his creation. Art is a mind-to-mind transmission, just as Buddhism says enlightenment is! If it is not then real roses are better than a painting or a photograph of roses.

But roses wither and die while art works stay on and on, preserving their power to re-create the effect of vibrantly alive roses to other minds and they keep doing this into the foreseeable future!


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.

Christmas Is for Children Is for Grownups


The Magic of Jack


I’ve done over 80 images from the Bernard family portrait shoot last Saturday when I discovered a whole set of additional images largely featuring the two boys, Ethan and Jack. Ethan has a narrower repertoire of expressions, probably my fault for not posing him better but Jack was a darling! I told his cousin, Emily, whom I’ve shot several times now, that at this shoot she was second place to Jack. The boy was a challenge to shoot but his pictures are the most fun to process and post! For 2011 I want to do more children portraits, in addition, of course, to doing more portraits in general. I love shooting models but I think, as my skills and experience in photography grow, my interest too is expanding! It’s exciting and validating.


Capturing Portraits with Alien Bee Strobes


Ria & Luke


More than ever I am convinced that learning occurs on at least two levels. I hear about something or hear about it but it is only after I put what I’ve learned to use that it comes alive. Action involves time. Time is essential to learning, both while executing an action as well as those in-between times when I’m not doing anything.

In a group email from Bikkhu Samahita, he American-born Buddhist monk wrote about thīna-middha, one of the hindrances that a meditator has to overcome to arrive at neighborhood concentration, the threshold of samadhi. The hindrance is translated as “lethargy-and-laziness,” commonly present in the practice of neophyte meditators and associated with doubt or the absence of faith. The bikkhu uses traditional Theravadan scriptures to discuss how thīna-middha can be overcome:

What is the starving cause that makes Lethargy-&-Laziness cease?
 There is the quality of initiative.  There is the quality of launching action.
 There is the quality of tenaciously enduring persistence. Frequently giving 
rational & wise attention to these three mental elements, is the starving 
cause for the non-arising of Lethargy-&-Laziness, and the starving cause 
for the arousing and stirring of already present Lethargy-&-Laziness. 
 Samyutta Nikaya 46:51

Generating initiative that leads to decisive action and persisting in action if at first it does not win the desired effect one overcomes a sluggish, lazy mind. Action is energy and energy must be expended to win energy.

Likewise in learning, one must use the body to incorporate an idea if that idea is to turn into insight (vipassana in Pali). But action has to be coupled with perseverance when one pauses between action and listens, listens with the inner ear that the inner heart feels what the intellect knows. When both beat to the same rhythm, learning is accomplished.

Well I knew that professional photographers used strobes to take pictures. I started out taking still pictures with video lights because my initial idea was to dive into video and filmmaking. It was only three to four months ago that I bought my Alien Bees, two 6000K and one 8000K flashes triggered by a Pocket Wizard.

Since then I’ve grown quite proficient using strobes, a development that came along with wanting to shoot more location pictures, without putting up my elegant white or black backgrounds and complicated ensemble of video lights.

For this afternoon’s shoot I used only the large Alien Bee triggered by Pocket Wizard to take these family photos. Somewhere along the way I’d also learned that increasing the ISO to about 160 even in daylight or strobe light turned out richer pictures. The results exceeded my expectations.

I am certain I shall learn more about using strobes, especially to take portraits if not model shots. I’ll start combining strobes for more interesting lighting effects and I’ll even experiment with shutter speeds, aperture and focal lengths. The journey of mastering the craft continues. I am excited and thīna-middha is getting pushed further at bay.