Learning to play tug with the dog

Apparently I can’t upload this directly to Facebook, so I guess I’ll post it here! An animated gif of my son learning to play tug with the dog, and the dog learning to play tug with the baby.



Twelfth day of Christmas

Reposting one of my favorite photographs. I don’t do this with my own work very often, but something about the colors and composition of this photograph are always fascinating to me.


Another affirmation of the Great Plains

Cody Jean Carson Brown's Migration

One of the things that makes central Nebraska really unique is the Spring migration of the Sandhill Cranes. All sorts of events go on during the month of March in response to the roughly 500,000 cranes descending on the Platte River Valley. Earlier this week my wife and I enjoyed the opening reception of Stuhr Museum’s annual Wings Over the Platte exhibit.

It’s quite a good show, worth seeing if you’re in the area. I was glad to see acquaintance Doug Johnson getting Best of Show. His recent work is going in a creative and wonderfully unexpected direction, which is sometimes lacking in Midwestern art shows. Another fascinating piece was the mixed media (but mostly ceramic) wall sculpture by Cody Jean Carson Brown pictured to the right.

However, the most interesting thing at the exhibit was not visual. It was the bio/artist statement from featured artist Jason Jilg.

Born and raised in Broken Bow, [Nebraska], Jason could not leave the Great Plains fast enough. The world pulled with all its exotic lands and cultures, so Jason joined the Navy and traveled the world to see these locations . . .

. . . If I were given the choice of traveling Europe or some location in the American Plains, I’d probably pick the Plains . . . This part of America that is “in between.” In between the American West, American South and the very different American Midwest in terms of not only geography, but also time, place and memory.

This is interesting to me, if you haven’t figured it out yet, as yet another validation of the plains, the prairie: Lampooned by so much of America, loved by so many that have taken the time to observe it.

Jason’s photography is some of the better photography I’ve seen in recent memory. The exhibit wasn’t perfect; it lacked a focal point as a whole and some of the prints were pushed a little too far — a la Ansel Adams. But it’s obvious Jilg possesses the necessary skills to excel at the craft. He’s careful about choosing and composing his subject matter and uses the frame very well. His sense of scale shooting on the prairie as a subject is also very acute. I’m looking forward to seeing more of his images in the near future.

Storms of 2010

At the left is a recap of my favorite stormy photographs from 2010 (Props to the DoubleTake photo stitching tool for Mac.). Most of the interesting cloud formations around Grand Island were mammatus — from storm systems that were more than 100 miles away, usually to the south in Kansas. Hopefully there will be a little more variety in 2011.

I find myself already looking forward to the spring storms on this prairie. This surprises me a little since winter didn’t really get going until January around here. We’ve had a few nice snowfalls now; I hope we see one or two more so I can actually take out a makeshift sled I banged together earlier in January.

All of these panoramas were taken inside Grand Island city limits. A few were taken from the roof of a building downtown, the others from around my house. As I recall all of this set were taken with our Nikon D50 (I use my cameraphone at least as often as the DSLR; my phone is always with me.).

My favorite in this little gallery is the one in the middle, Evening Ceiling. The way that wispy edge spread out over the burnt orange sunset was literally jaw-dropping. The space was positively incredible. I’m not certain I can be objective about the quality of the photograph on account of its connection to that experience.

Christmas X

I still love this photograph I snapped four years ago while at the Urbana conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

Macy's (Famous & Barr Co.) window display, downtown St. Louis

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.

— Henri Cartier-Bresson

Approaching forms as an artist

A recent series on drawing from the New York Times, given by James McMullan, makes two points worth repeating, especially as I delve into figurative forms again.

The first is that the “process of drawing is a really live process and not like a dead thing, ‘Oh my God I can’t change anything because I made that line five minutes ago.'” If we didn’t learn this from all of the gestural drawings we did in college, I don’t think we ever will. This is, I believe, what paralyzes a lot of people who do not have artistic training (or even artistic ambitions) when they think of drawing. They have this idea that your first line has to be perfect. Not so.

McMullan’s second interesting point is that people tend to want to compete with a photograph when they are drawing. From there he says “I’m trying to show people is that a much more vigorous way of seeing the body or seeing the head is to look at the big forms first . . . we tend to concentrate on the eyes and hairstyle and think that that is what gives people their visual personality.” He continues by pointing out that visual personality comes actually from basic visual forms — the slant of the brow, how much the nose protrudes from the cheek — and not so much the things we usually concentrate on.

I wish McMullan would have expounded on how we tend to compete with photographs as we draw (or sculpt in clay as well?). He may have been trying to do so with this important notation on how we perceive the human countenance, but there is something more to be said about how that perception is shaped in an environment canvased with such realistic human likenesses. Before photography — yes, there was such a time — how did we look at a portrait as a viewer? How did we approach an object, a figure, as an artist?

Regardless, these two points came at just the right time for me. Drawing (with graphite or clay) is a living thing shifting throughout the creative process — a responsive process drawn from observation of both the actual and perceived. Figurative countenance is defined by basic forms. Now off I go to sketch a few more faces from Flickr before putting those forms to clay.

Unfortunately the video seems to be hosted on the New York Times website and can’t be embedded. Watch it in its entirety via this link.

The unmarketing socially benevolent artist

Not that I dislike the idea of being an artist on and of the Great Plains, but this would be the life. It seems to have all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. (Is that a good thing? Since it’s starting out in real life, I’m using it as a good thing in this context.)

Create for yourself a persona and carry out creative acts of artistry to bring awareness to social injustices around the world. JR, a French photograffeur, was awarded this year’s annual TED prize with accompanying “One wish to change the world.” The artist is very protective of his true identity, at first wearing sunglasses and a hat pulled down over his face in a Skype interview with TED.

A number of JR’s monumental photographic installations are “unauthorised,” pasted on the sides of buildings as inconspicuously as possible while officials who will most certainly object to the message go about their socially unjust business. One such installation was going up in China when he was being interviewed by the New York Times; JR was worried they might get into trouble. “We went into the building next door, and it was empty, and we went up to the tower, and nobody stopped us, so we just started working,” he said in the article. “It’s crazy. This city is so huge and overgrown, the more you’re in the middle of things, the more you feel transparent.”

The money the artist garners from sales and prizes go back into more ambitious projects around the world acording to the Times’ interview. See the artist’s installations on his website.

Intentional Observations: On the jobsite

A few cameraphone images snapped while on the jobsite (as a house painter). The camera on my new [6 month old] phone brags as many megapixels as our first bonafide digital camera, and its macro function works pretty well. As the photo of the mayfly attests too.

The prize goes to whoever can figure out what the first picture is of.

Click-click, shame-shame: Photographing people on the street

In line at bank this morning I was struck by how the three or four people around me all represented different ethnicities. In some places in America this wouldn’t be too surprising, but here in middle America, in small town America it’s pretty novel.

The people at the counter stood a (presumably) Sudanese couple, behind them were a woman in a burka and a Latino A man I believe was Lao held the door for me as I’d walked in.

Impressed by this diverse array, I took out my fancified phone intending to take a photo.

A woman in a burka uses the ATM.

What else does a guy in line have to do besides utilize the technology he pays for? By the time the photo program loaded on the phone, the photographic opportunity had passed and I ended up with a shot of the back of the burka, the Sudanese man more or less invisible behind her.

The Sudanese man, however, took offense to my taking a photo with. “Why are you taking my picture? You can’t do that,” he said in fairly clear but heavily accented English. “Why not?” I asked, which began a somewhat redundant exchange with others in the bank listening in.

“You can’t take someone’s picture without their permission,” he stated plainly. “It’s against the law.” This, point in fact, is just untrue in the United States. Now, if I were going to use that image for profit I would need to get that person to sign a release form. But for personal or even artistic use, we in America are free to photograph people on the street. I remember my professor of photography in college talked about how he would walk in between two people having a conversation in the pursuit of the perfect photograph, and more impressively how the people (in Miami, Florida anyway) would go right on with their conversation as if he weren’t there.

“Nooo, not in America it’s not,” I responded to the Sudanese man’s accusation. I’d already deleted the photo anyway, knowing it wasn’t what I wanted.

“You can’t do that,” he reiterated. By now I was starting to realize his English — while I could understand him well enough — was fairly limited.

Some cultures, African in particular as I recall, believe[d] that when you take a photograph of a person you steal their soul. I was hoping he would engage me in conversation and some such cultural difference would become apparent. Other cultures love to have their pictures taken though. In contrast, when I visited Ensenada, Mexico in 1995, people ran to be in front of your lens, children in particular.

“Why not,” I asked again in the sincerest and humblest of tones I could find. I really did want to know why he so seriously thought I could not take his picture. This discourse went on another minute or so in the same manner, and he eventually wandered out of the bank without satisfying my curiosity.

Storm from the rooftop

Posting as I’m able this week. Glanced at the radar after still more packing this evening — we’re pretty close to done now, so hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy our time with company and social engagements of the next few days — and noticed a little action immediately south of town.

July 2009 storm from roof

From our roof it was probably the most photogenic storm of the year for me. I didn’t watch it all that long though. Low hanging clouds crept in front of it and obscured my view, beside the fact it was almost dark.