Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ain't gonna get no better

I've been fighting an awful cold and also wrestling with the best way to tell this story. For the moment and for the purposes of this blog, however, I'll explain a bit, add a couple additional photos and then stick with the audio slideshow I posted a couple of days ago.

Of course Molly got a flat tire and we didn't get around to fixing it until about 7 p.m. on Monday, when we were due back in Jacksonville the following day (I had an MRI scheduled for 6:45 a.m.!) because if not, it wouldn't have been an adventure. And, of course*, the only place open was this used tire place on Felicity Ave. that we drove past twice before realizing that it was the place the mechanic at the closing auto shop across town had recommended if Wal-mart couldn't help us out, which, not having a tire dept, it turned out they couldn't.

Directly across the street from the tire place was Greater Full Gospel Church, where Pastor "Dr." Leonard Banks sat preaching the good word into a microphone to be amplified down the entire block. In the 20 or so minutes we were around, most of the people I saw just walked on by and ignored him. I even talked to one person who said he usually avoids this street when they're outside preaching. But there was one man you'll see in the slideshow, head leaned back against the passenger seat in a pick-up truck listening to the sermon and looking totally at peace.

I recorded audio most of the time we were waiting to get the car fixed, but decided to track this with a clip I recorded while we walked to the ATM around the corner (cash-only, of course, of course). You'll hear sounds from the tire shop, of us and other people walking on the sidewalk, and of the Pastor, who was very kind and welcomed us, blessing me over his intercom several times for taking pictures and asking that I photograph his sign. Listen closely about 11 seconds from the end and you'll hear a young man walking past us on the sidewalk say, "Beautiful ladies, how y'all doin?" partly because it's NOLA where everyone talks to everyone and partly because we are such beautiful ladies...

I'm pretty happy with the slideshow given the quite limited amount of time I had to shoot and gather audio. Next time in New Orleans, I'd love to go more in-depth with this story. For example, I would have loved an interview with the pick-up truck churchgoer, but not enough to interrupt the sermon. He looked too much at peace, and we were running late.

Molly's tiny, fixed car, ready for our drive back to Jacksonville.

*If you wonder why I say 'of course' regarding these things, you should try traveling more often.

Friday, July 25, 2008

15 Minutes of Fame

One great thing about our hosts in New Orleans was that their 15-year-old son (also Patrick) loves to play music. The second they found out my traveling companion Molly loves to sing, they invited her to sing with him and some other local musicians that very night during a "15 Minutes of Fame" event at a great coffee house called Neutral Ground.

He's been playing guitar since Katrina, and his mom talked about how shocked she was that neighbors and members of the music community just kept giving him their old instruments without them having to buy it. He's a young performer, but I never saw him without a guitar. I hope he makes it big.

They'd never played together so before the performance they sneaked off to practice outside. Molly read the lyrics to Amazing Grace on the internet on someone's cell phone screen. They did it to the tune of "The House of the Rising Sun". They had an incredible sound, very moving. The photos don't capture it nearly as well as the recorded audio from their rehearsal and performance.

Listen to the rehearsal by pushing play:

Everyone sat on comfy chairs and couches and listened to them play. It was like being in a friend's living room. Strangers introduced themselves and shared couches with strangers. That kind of place.

Listen to the performance:

Full disclosure: it's possible that I'm jumping to conclusions. But I love this photo because it appears that our musician friend here is trying to chat up a pretty young lady at the coffee house. The light on her is great and they both look a little nervous, but totally unaware of my camera. One of those timeless moments, and, again, from Patrick's point of view. The only part of their conversation I overheard was them exchanging names, but I do wish him the best of luck with both the music and the ladies.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some Dogs Whose Names I Forget.

When we first walked up to the house of our New Orleanian hosts (see last post), this little guy was standing in front of the big one, between his legs, and I about melted. Of course I couldn't get my camera out fast enough and they didn't do this cute thing again during our entire stay but I still got some fun shots whenever I could keep them far away enough from me to focus. Such friendly dogs.

Sorry, but I've got to indulge in a tiny bit of projection/anthropomorphism. That little dog reminds me of myself when I'm pretending to be tall-- I stick my nose in the air, extend my neck as far as it will go, and puff out my chest. And that big dog is totally smiling. He knows he won the height contest, and he was barely trying.

I've had a theory in the works since sharing a city with snobby Parisian dogs, that dogs' friendliness is proportional with that of their owners. Thoughts?

At my birthday party in March, Dominick Reuter and I passed his camera back and forth shooting goofy photos of my friends. By the end of the night the only way you could tell who'd shot which photo was that his were all from a much higher perspective (kid is a couple of feet taller than I am.) Point being: I've been trying lately to get my camera off my face so that all my pictures aren't from the same perspective. For this and the last one I held the camera at about knee-height, and got this guy to look up at me.

This is not an example of the effort I just explained, but I was playing with what Bruce Lipsky told me-- this photo has a clear point of view (my face!)

I call this one "Role Model". It'd dedicated to my mentor, former TA, former editor, and close friend, Ms. Phoebe Anne Sexton. I assume she likes friendly dogs.

You're welcome here, kind stranger...

The Be Good Tanyas' version of "The Lakes of Pontchartrain," a civil war-era folk song, kept ing in my head all weekend. Here I slapped a verse on a photo of a pretty doorbell. It wasn't actually the doorbell to the house of the kind folks who hosted us, but the basic idea (welcoming Southern hospitality) is there. Some of the vignetting happened in-camera, but, again, I used photoshop to make it more prominent.

Our hosts were Patrick (who goes by Patrap), his wife Theresa, and their 15-year-old son, also Patrick. They started off as strangers to us-- Molly's aunt knew them from Weather Underground, where you can read Patrap's tips for hurricane preparedness. They spent 26 months living in a FEMA trailer, so they would know. I was struck by the pride they took in having endured that, in having rebuilt and returned, the pride they took in their city was phenomenal. They welcomed us into their house with open arms, sharing stories, inviting Molly to sing with their son at a coffee shop, and even leaving the key to their house with us when we went out that night!

Here they were playing with their sweetie of a dog while watching the weather on TV. It was Saturday, so everyone (and I mean every single New Orleanian I talked to) was worried about Dolly. (Side note: I've got an entire upcoming post dedicated to photos of their adorable dogs.)

I wanted to show both of the last two photos together because they're very similar, and together they tell a lot. In the first one, Theresa is knocking on her neighbor's door to see if they want to come out with us tonight to a coffee shop where her son is performing. Friendly Southern neighbors, sharing a porch, a backyard, an evening's entertainment. Beautiful.

You can't see Patrap in the second because he was around the corner behind me. "This North wind is really freaking me out," Patrap said, "It was like this right before Katrina." He said it with a mixture of fear and pride and confidence in his knowledge of weather, and here Theresa is standing on her front porch, a social center of deep Southern culture, thinking about the wind direction, and about (then Tropical Storm) Dolly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I met Molly through CouchSurfing, a non-profit worldwide network to help connect travelers with locals, so I knew she'd be good for adventures. My role as copilot on her recent trip to NOLA for a job interview was totally spontaneous and unexpected but worked out well for all involved (she had someone to yap at during the long haul, I got a free ride to visit New Orleans for the first time.) We were only there for a couple of days but I have a couple of sets of photos to share. I'll break it into several entries. This first one of mostly driving pictures will be the least exciting.

Our weekend road trip to New Orleans doesn't really need a title slide, but eight hours in the car with limited entertainment encouraged me to get a little creative with my camera. Molly's had these beads hanging from her mirror since Mardi Gras and they've faded in the sunlight. One of several recent goals and strategies for me in improving my photography has been to shoot from a wider variety of angles, hence this up-shot of her windshield. I think it's a fun and creative picture, the kind of thing this blog is for, and when editing it I couldn't resist adding some text in the negative space. So there you are.

Molly putting on makeup in the car. She calls this a character flaw, making excuses for not being more confident. She's hard on herself.

One of the things Bruce Lipsky told me while looking through some of my work is to start thinking about having a clear point of view in my photos. I'd heard of having a clear point of view in creative writing, but I hadn't thought of it in photography. He showed me some great examples, and it's something I tried to work with while shooting this weekend. You'll see it more in a couple of the photos to come. For this one I put the camera behind the rear-view mirror and pointed it at Molly as she was applying her eye makeup. I'm torn about these last two, because although they're somewhat dark and vague and uninformative, there's something very genuine and un-self-conscious about these moments that I felt I wanted to share.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Another video edit

Here's one I edited yesterday at I was proud that I resisted the urge to just let her interview track the piece underneath B-roll. That would have been fine, but I think the use of natural sound (throughout, but especially in the beginning, where I used a speech she was making to the 'soldiers' instead of to the reporter) make it a much stronger piece. I've basically memorized the great advice in this blog post about video editing so I remind myself of it whenever I sit down to edit a piece and feel the temptation to start off with "My name is..."

Of course, I couldn't have done any of this if Bob Self hadn't shot it so well... Props to him, another great T-U photog, still getting used to video, who somehow managed to get all these shots with no tripod.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cover Story Shoot

During one of the last days of my internship at Folio Weekly, my editor asked me to go along with Walter Coker, the staff photographer, to shoot a portrait at a mini-golf course called Mandarin Mill. The issue had a summer feature about the Northeast Florida mini-golf landscape. I didn't realize that it was about a million degrees outside, or that the quick portrait shoot on the mini-golf course was actually the most painful obstacle course that a patient recovering from knee surgery could ever hope to encounter, in search of the hole with the best light and background.

Walter already had his model and his idea for the shot drawn on a scrap of paper from a brainstorming session that happened in the office that morning. He needed an hand (mine) to hold a putter in the shot. I kept my camera in my other hand, though, and I love this image of tall, quiet Walter "teeing up" poor Danny who was trying so hard to keep his eyes open in the face of bright afternoon sunlight.

Again, if I'd been able to squat down to get their faces I think my photos would have been more interesting, but with the knee that wasn't really an option. I tried holding my camera closer to ground level without looking through the viewfinder, but that put me pretty off-balance and they didn't come out that well (perhaps if I'd had a wider-angle lens?)

This shot (of Walter's) was tricky, I'll have you know, because Danny had the tee between his teeth and had to balance this golf ball on it. That was hard enough, but he also could only open his eyes for a couple seconds at a time because the sun was so bright, so he'd only open them right when Walter was ready to shoot the photo, and then the ball would fall off the tee because he'd moved ever-so-slightly.

Here's the awesome cover they ended up with! Walter had hoped Danny's expression would be more on the wide-eyed/surprised end of the spectrum, but I think his (genuine) pained expression really works here.

[Note: This shoot was last week, I just didn't want to preempt the FW cover in my blog until it actually ran.]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

First Video on!

I just got home from my first full shift at the Times-Union. I was there for about 9 hours, learning file naming conventions, the peculiarities of their BrightCove account, and editing this video of the grand opening of a Winn-Dixie downtown using FinalCut. I was pretty excited to work with it because it was shot by Bruce Lipsky, one of a handful of TU photogs whose name I recognized just from being impressed with his work that I'd seen on the site and in the print version of the paper for years (which my dad has delivered to the house every day! Print is not dead!)

Bruce probably wouldn't have minded if I'd told him I was a fan of his but I was nervous or felt weird or decided against it for no reason and instead I asked him boring questions about how long he'd been shooting, what camera he uses, what he had in mind for this video, where he likes to get chicken wings, etc. He definitely shoots video like a photographer. It's just a grocery store, but his shots are clean and colorful. He made this a visual story-- I can't remember the last time I heard someone complain about having way to much B-roll for the audio track. He had a couple of nice clips that I just couldn't fit in and he totally called me on it. ("You didn't use my chicken wings!") Oops. I mean, I heard they were not so good anyway. Anyway, I figure it's not bad for a quick turn-around piece, and I'm getting quicker and better at FinalCut all the time. Expect more video posts in the future.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Welcome to the World, Madeleine Grace.

Ever since I learned that Lindsay Bowyer, a friend of mine from high school, was gonna be a mommy, I have been so excited to meet her baby girl and photograph the two of them together. Lindsay is one of the most photogenic people I've ever met (below are 3 portraits I shot of her in December, 2005), so I knew her baby would adore the camera as well.

Lindsay chose to do an all-natural childbirth, and we discussed this at length (basically she answered dozesns and dozens of my questions). I think this process really empowered her, especially entering the tough world of single motherhood, to learn and experience all of the things a woman's body is capable of doing.

Anyway, meet Madeleine Grace Bowyer.

Here Lindsay is telling one of her favorite stories about Madeleine. "Right after she was born, they handed her to me and I said 'Hey baby girl!' and she threw her head back and looked up at me, just like this. She knew her mommy's voice."

When I first met Madeleine I was totally smitten, and I squealed something like "Awww, look at her little toes!" and Lindsay responded "I know, I can't wait to paint them."

She makes funny faces like her momma.

I can't imagine facing the challenge of single motherhood myself, but this baby girl is being brought into a world where she is so loved. Lindsay says everyone (her mother, her aunts, and even the baby's father) runs around all the time, doting on her and making sure she has everything she needs. It takes a village, they say, and she's lucky enough to raise Madeleine close to her grandparents (Lindsay's living at home for the time being) and in a supportive church community as well.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Skaters at a Surf Competition

Last weekend I rode down with my dad to the National Kidney Foundation's Pro-Am Surf Competition at the St. Augustine Beach Pier. He'd been invited to judge the De La Mer Bikini Contest, and who is he to turn down the opportunity to do something for a good cause like the Kidney Foundation, right? I decided to stay out of his way during the judging.

There were some people surfing but by then the contest was over for the day, the waves were pretty small and it looked kind of foggy, so I decided to focus on these skaters on the half-pipe they'd set up a day or two before the competition for contests and demonstrations.

The guy you see in these first four is Tim Johnson, age 30, from my former hometown of St. Marys, Georgia! He was nice and a good skater even though he took a few falls, as you can see. I didn't realize he was actually a top pro skater until afterwards. Ahh, the wonders of the internet, where you can not only see a list of contests he's placed in up to 2007, but also watch a disgusting YouTube video of him getting his arm drained of abscess after a skating accident...

This shot ended up like a kind of cool optical illusion...

I also adored these kids, watching the skaters with us, who looked a little too young to have mohawks, but who am I to judge?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Four from Nada Surf

My first good summer adventure post-op was to see the band Nada Surf play at a venue in San Marco called Jack Rabbit's. Jack Rabbit's is tiny and intimate, so most bands that play there end up hanging around at the bar or playing pool before.

I was still on crutches which makes it difficult to carry too much, but I brought my d80 and its smallest lens, a fixed 50mm f/1.8 that was the kit lens on an old film camera . The speed and slight zoom (it's a "normal" lens for 35mm film, but on my digital camera body it's about a 75mm equivalent) of the lens make it great for portraits, but the manual focus is tricky, especially in low light. Anyway, here are some that I shot, I enjoyed the challenge if nothing else.

I was stuck in the back of the venue for most of the show so I could prop up my leg in the brace. I shot this one from there. It has a really gritty, almost-voyeuristic feel to it that I kind of liked.

Turns out the Nada Surf guys were really friendly and chatted with me and my friend before and after their set, and even invited us to hang out with them afterwards. We sat around their hotel for hours, smoking cigarettes inside, laughing and arguing about music. These guys have been making music and touring since the early 90's.

Above is Matthew Caws, lead vocals and guitar, playing some iTunes. I love their music so I was really glad to learn that they're great people, unpretentious and fun, like any of my college friends. They get excited about good music of any genre and funny youtube videos.

Then we drove to the beach at sunrise. Jacksonville can be beautiful.

Senior Trip! (from May)

I've got quite a backlog of photos to share, as recently I've been directing my energy into a number of other activities. I'm going to try to bring this blog up to date with some semblance of chronology.

Here are a few I missed in May, when some UNI friends coordinated our own low-budget "senior trip", camping an hour or so outside of the city in Harold Parker State Forest. The crew (5 recent UNI grads and a dog) was really accommodating coordinating with me and my crutches. I had a great time even though I had to play Boggle instead of go hiking.

I love this first picture of Ari and Afzal setting up our tent. You can see how beautiful the site is, and Afzal looks so serious about putting the thing together correctly. And then there's Ari, just cracking up as she waits for him to turn around and notice that the tent is slowly tipping over. Also implicit in this photograph is the fact that I was sitting around goofing off with my camera, laughing quietly at their efforts to set up a sleeping space for us before the sun set.

This beautiful family of geese swam past our campsite on the lake.

Editing through these I remember how frustrated I was that I couldn't climb lower on the rocks lakeside to get closer and a better angle (less space between the creatures and the foliage). I miss mobility all the time, but especially shooting where it's so essential. Even though they were just cute pictures of geese. Soon, soon, I'll be training for Triathlons and so forth.