The One Way I Might Be Like Hitler. Seriously.

The struggle is real.

And, before anyone rushes to judgement, let me be clear; I have no desire to commit inhuman acts of violence, plot genocide, or spew racial hatred for entire people-groups.  Please, God, No, I’m nothing like Hitler in those respects.

I am concerned, however, that I might be like him in one, very specific, way.

I often worry that my art lacks soul.

That’s what prevented Hitler from getting into Art School, you know.  Well, not that specifically.  The Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (the Vienna Academy for Fine Arts), didn’t stamp “Lacks soul” on Hitler’s applications in 1907 and 1908.  But the general consensus is that, while his was a fine draftsman, he wasn’t a great artist.

Adolf Hitler had a natural flair for drawing.  His high school instructors recognized his talent, but unfortunately he was a lazy student, and essentially dropped out of school before graduation.

In 1908, at eighteen years old, Hitler moved from his home in Linz, leaving behind his mother who was fighting breast cancer, and went to Vienna where he would stay until 1913.

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Vienna State Opera House, Adolf Hitler, 1912

Hitler had a knack for architecture, it is said he could draw detailed pictures from memory of a building he had seen only once.  In fact, one of his examiners at the Vienna Academy acknowledged Hitler’s skill by suggesting he apply for their School of Architecture, and pursue being an architect instead of the fine arts.

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St. Charles’s Church in Vienna, Adolf Hitler, 1912

Hitler was having none of it.  After his second rejection from the Vienna Academy, he stayed in Vienna and continued to paint, often selling his paintings of the city. Hitler frequented the artists’ cafes in Munich in the hope that established artists would help him with his ambition to paint professionally.

At this point, some might be reading this thinking, “I don’t want to humanize this monster”, and I get that. Obviously, I’m being sensationalist in my choice of subject, sure, but that doesn’t negate my central question, “Are there people who just have natural genius when it comes to the arts?”

Earlier I had said that Hitler had a natural talent for drawing, and nobody disputes that. What everyone also agrees on is that the Academy was correct in rejecting his application, his human figures are mediocre, lacking in life, form and feeling.

He seemed to lack the sufficient insight to truly portray others in his art, and obviously that speaks volumes about his character.

Was there something he could have learned, or developed over time?  Was he born to be a monster?  Or was there something that could have been brought out to help him make great art?

It’s a question that has always fascinated me; are truly great artists born and not made?  Was Picasso always going to be a world-class, ground breaking artist?  Was Mozart born to earn a place in history with his music?

Or, to quote Alan Sorkin’s dialogue from Steve Jobs, “You think John [Lennon] became John by winning a raffle, Woz? You think he tricked somebody or hit George Harrison over the head? He was John because he was John.”

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Old Woman, Adolf Hitler, 1908

The common belief is that some people have “It”, whatever that elusive quality is, and most people do not.  Picasso had it.  John Lennon had it. Maria Callas had it.

Yes, sometimes even I wonder if I have “It”.

Sure, I got into art school.  Suck it, Hitler!  But I’m pretty sure it was only because a California State University cashed my tuition check.

Are there people who just have natural genius when it comes to the arts?  And what do you do when you realize that you are never going to be one of those people?

Do we do it for the praise?  Or do we do it because that’s all we can do, and we cannot do anything else?  Or anything less?

If my work does lack “soul”, or heart, then so be it.  If I have been chosen to only be 2nd rate or 3rd tier, so be it.

But here’s the thing: At this point in my life, I know who I am as an artist.  There is no running away from that.

All I know is that I have a vision, and the will to see that vision realized. I have a total, impassioned and unwavering belief in my art.

And maybe, at the end of the day, that’s what truly counts.

After spending an afternoon perusing an exhibit of famous art works at the Academy of Design in San Francisco, Mark Twain wrote, “I am glad the old masters are all dead, and I only wish they had died sooner.”

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A Clean Style

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I recently bought a pack of VSCO filters. I have yet to use any of them.

For those who don’t know, VSCO are post-processing filters that replicate a selection of the best and most popular film photography from back in the day. It supposedly gives modern digital photography a vintage film look.

Normally I like this look. Filters like VSCO and others get flack from some photographers because they believe it is a lazy post-processing technique, or that people are simply using these filters to copy popular Instagram or Tumblr looks without developing their own style.

From what I understand, most good photographers can uses these preset filters as a starting point only, and then alter and adjust as needed until they have something that matches their own style, or the needs of a client.  VSCO is just another tool in the toolbox.

I take back my original statement: I have used one VSCO filters a total of four times.  Here is one example.

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I started with a filter that simulated old Tri-X black and white film, and tweeked until I got something I liked.

But, for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to do that with other photographs, especially photographs of people.

I like a simple style. I have tried to cultivate a simple style.  I have worked very hard to never rely on fancy edits or post-processing trickery.  From searching for basic geometric shapes that exist in suburbia air-conditionerlight-pole-shadowsuburban-mailbox

to trying to get the cleanest, straightforward shots of cars and other cool stuff, I like to think of my style as bare bones, letting the objects and colors speak for themselves.

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Sometimes I watch cooking shows.  I don’t cook, but my wife does, which means when she is watching cooking shows, I’m watching cooking shows.  While never actually learning how to cook, I have learned one thing from watching cooking shows; when you start with really great ingredients, a good cut of beef or fresh vegetables, you don’t need to do a lot to them to make a great meal.  If the ingredients are delicious to start with, you’re most of the way there.  In fact, pouring heavy sauces or using too many spices over good ingredients can actually serve to wreck a decent meal.

This is how I approach my photography.  I want to start off with something great in camera.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do post-processing work.  It means I work to make sure my post-processing work isn’t noticed.  Sharpening, gradations, dodging & burning, cloning, curves adjustments, these are all tools in my toolbox that help me create the best final image possible.  But my goal is never to draw attention to these edits. My goal is to make sure you, the viewer, never notice them.  I can do several dozens of tweeks, adjustments and changes to a final image, hundreds even, and my hope is that you’ll never be the wiser.

I like a clean style.

Photography Advice For Beginners

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For people who are just starting out in photography, here is my advice:

1) Glass is far more important that your camera body. Invest is a good camera and great lenses

2) Shoot daily. Shoot in every situation you can; dark, light, crowds, empty streets, cityscapes, landscapes, cars, sports, everything. Until you find something you’re really passionate about shooting, then focus on that.

3) Get Lightroom. Maybe get Photoshop. Or, get both for the $9.99 a month package. But, at minimum, get LR and learn how to really use it.

4) For the love of everything that is good and pure in this world, calibrate your monitor.

5) Don’t get caught up in only posting your work online.  You don’t want “followers”, you want to get better.  Find some place on the interwebs where you can get honest feedback about your work. They are often difficult to find, but there are some great forums out there where talented people do take the time to give solid critique. You will never grow as an artist if all people do is kiss your ass.

6) Learn your camera inside and out. Know the tool of your trade. Read the manual. Know how to change aperture, shutter speed and ISO on the fly, without fumbling around too much.

7) Learn what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are. Learn how they relate to exposure, and what else they affect BESIDES exposure. These will all start to make more sense, hopefully, if you continually follow rule #2 and start asking questions about why some shots work, why some don’t.

8) After a while, and you start getting shots you like, start printing them out. Your photographs will look surprisingly different in the “real world” rather than on a computer screen. And it’s very cool to physically hold something you created.

9) Look at other photographers work. See what people did before you. Me, I’m a huge fan of Stephen Shore, Lee Friedlander, and William Eggleston. You might hate their work. If so, then screw you. But you’re entitled to your opinion, I guess. The bottom line is, find people whose work you connect with. We have close to 200 years of photography behind us, there is a lot to learn.

10) Have fun. If photography becomes too much of a chore, put the camera back in the box and take up quilting. Seriously, the homeless need to keep warm for the coming winter. Do something productive with your life.

Get in.

Get in 01

Get in.

It’s being a teenager and getting your first real taste of freedom.  It’s pulling out of your driveway and knowing, for the first time, you have control of your own destiny.  Turn left or turn right.  It suddenly clicks that your life is an open ended story.  You are Master and Commander.  Unless, of course, you’re instructed to just get some milk from the store.

It’s piling in with all your friends and hitting a club, or a party, or going to the mall, or just driving to the edge of town where you can see the lights of the city and make jokes and talk about everything and nothing for hours on end.

Get in 03

Get in.

It’s heading out to the open road to destinations unknown.  It’s getting out of your two horse town to somewhere big, exciting and teeming with endless possibilities.  It’s getting out of your miserable, crowded metropolis and finding your song and your soul in some quiet corner of the desert where the sunsets are so glorious it makes the divine seems possible.

It’s having a big smile on your face because in your head you are imaging yourself as Steve McQueen in Bullet, or Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, or turning your budget car into a Lamborghini Miura and zig-zagging through the Swiss Alps in The Italian Job (before, obviously, you slam into a mafia-controlled bulldozer).  It’s cranking the stereo well beyond approved occupational health and safety limits because Tom Petty is running down a dream and, dammit, so are you.

Get in 02

Get in.

It’s taking your wife to the hospital as her contractions get more frequent, and you wonder if you’ll even make it to the maternity ward in time.  It’s driving your kid to their first dance recital, or their first parent/teacher conference.  It’s packing up the family to go get pizza, then go to the movies.  It’s driving across town to comfort a friend, or meet a first date.  It’s putting everything you own into the trunk, and setting out to make a life.  It’s putting everything you have left into the back seat, and setting out to find somewhere to start again.

Get in 04

Get in.

It’s pouring your heart and soul, and wallet, into making something cool.  It’s long nights in the garage, and shouting out expletives that would make a merchant sailor blush.  It’s bruised knuckles, oily clothes and saying for the hundredth time that you’re done, and you’ll just pay somebody to just tow away that miserable piece of shit.

Then, after all that, it’s having it start up.  That feeling, right there.

It’s about driving around and have everyone eye your ride, while they’re stuck in generic econoboxes and soulless minivans.  That feeling, right there.

It’s being a teenager again, but doing it right this time.  It’s about not letting go of your dream car, or your dreams, again.

Get in 05

Get in.  Let’s go.

I’ll drive.

I’m So Excited, And I Just Can’t Hide It

Hello, everyone.  It’s been a while.

Some stuff has happened since my last post, but mostly I won first place in the Places/Architecture category of that contest I had talked about earlier.  I’m very excited.

I used the prize money to buy a flash.  A Nikon SB-700.  Here’s me using the flash.

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Don’t let that calm demeanor fool you, I’m actually very excited about it.

Here’s a shot where I used the flash.

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This was at Frank’s Father’s Day Show at Findlay Chevrolet here in Vegas.  They hold it mostly inside their parking structure.  Which is great for the cars, because they are out of the sun.  But it’s bad for photography, because they are out of the sun.  In fact, it’s pretty dark in there, and it has always been a real struggle to get decent photos of the cars parked inside.  Until now.

I have been reading about flash techniques for a long time now, because a flash has been on my “to purchase” list for a long time now.  So, I knew not to use direct flash, but instead bounce the flash off the ceiling.  You can see that in the reflections on the top of this ’57’s fin, those bright lines are from the ceiling of the structure being lit up, providing a really sweet, diffused light.  I’m so happy with how the shots from this show came out.  I feel like I’ve embarked on a brand new journey with my photography.  I should have gotten the flash a lot sooner.  I’m very excited.

One other thing I’ve been excited about was a trip I recently took to California.  I was born in Los Angeles, and raised in the suburbs directly east of L.A.  Even though I’ve lived around the world, and am currently based in Las Vegas, my heart will always be in Los Angeles.

Despite that, I forgot how much I hated being in that traffic.  Whenever people in Las Vegas complain about the traffic in this town, I just smile, and say, “Aww, bless your sweet heart.”

I went to the J. Paul Getty Museum.  I had never been there before, and it has been on my “to visit” list for a long time now.  I have a lot of lists.

Getty 01

Being there, surrounded by world class art, I was inspired to step up my game and not just take standard, touristy snapshots.  I wanted my photos to be art as much as they would be about the art.  I know that’s a lofty goal, especially being surrounded by everyone from Albrecht Dürer to Vincent Van Gogh.

Here’s the set on flickr – J. Paul Getty Museum.  No, they aren’t as good as Van Gogh, but I’m excited about how they turned out.  I know that’s the running gag of this post, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true.  I can really look on these and see that I rose (however slightly) to the challenge I set for myself.

The other thing I was able to do was to have a good old fashioned photo-walk through my old home town.

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I haven’t done one of these in a long time.  Too long, actually.  Which is a shame, considering how important I’ve said they are to me.

Here’s the set on flickr – Sketches of West Covina.  I’ve called it “sketches” because I didn’t do any of the post processing I usually do for my automotive photography.  I adjusted the white balance, exposure, cropped a little, and that was about it.  I’m not going to say they are how they are straight out of the camera, but they’re close.

They say it never rains in Southern California, but this day started pretty overcast.  I didn’t like the light, if I’m honest, I really wanted that sweet California sun all throughout my walk.  But, what are you going to do.

The Getty set and the West Covina set are both rooted in having different priorities than my usual automotive photography.  I concentrated much more on composition than I have been doing lately, really trying to craft shots, and arrange elements successfully throughout the frame. It reinforced the fact that there is a huge gap between something that just looks interesting and being able to take an interesting photo of something that looks interesting.

Just because something is cool, doesn’t mean that a photo of it is automatically cool.

It’s a good lesson to know.  Now, I’m off to learn much more about my SB-700.

So very excited.

 

 

 

 

 

The Burden Of Quality Control

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Just a quick note to follow up from my last blog post, I still haven’t heard from Nikon, other than their acknowledgement that they received my D610 for repair.  It’s been over a month now since I mailed my camera to them.  Disappointed.  Very disappointed.  Maybe they are swamped with all the D750s they have recalled.  Oh boy.

However, on the upside, I have totally warmed to my D5300.  I had mentioned that I thought it was a sideways move in terms of image quality from my Pentax K-01, but I think that was just me being a grumpy gills.  It is better, and with much improved autofocus, and some far superior lenses, I’m more than happy with leaving Pentax.  Maybe I should have forsaken the full frame dream, saved myself some coin and hassle and just gone with the D7100, and been happy.  Who knows.

Anyway.

This past weekend was 1st Annual Red Car and Bike Valentines Get Together, sponsored by the Las Vegas Lugnut and Hellkat Car Shows.  It was an outstanding meet with a parking lot full of beautiful red cars and lots of great people.  I had some cool conversations, chilled out and genuinely had a good time.  And I took loads of pictures.  Most will not see the light of day.

See that top pic?  That’s it, that’s the one I have processed so far.  And, frankly, I’ll probably stop right there.  Now, please understand, this is no reflection on the show, the cars, the owners, or the organizers. This is just my (in)ability to capture what I wanted.

Hey, listeners, from the Grooveyard Of Forgotten Favorites here’s the sweet sounds of the Excuses Serenade, ah five six seven eight: the cars were too close together I got there late and the light was bad there were too many people cluttering up my shots the backgrounds all sucked all the red cars eventually blended into each other so nothing really stood out dah do run run run dah do run run.

Of course, all that is bullshit.  The reality is that every shoot is a learning experience and I’ve still got a whole hell of a lot to learn.

So, do I just post any ol’ thing simply for the sake of posting it?  I’m thinking not.

Here’s why.  I’m not saying I’m some wizard with a DSLR, and everything I produce is magic.  What I am saying is that I’m more interested in being proud of what I publish, rather than being proud of how much I publish.

I would rather post one really great pic per week than force myself to generate dozens and dozens of mediocre shots just to keep the numbers up.

What does this mean, that I won’t post crap photos in future?  Of course I will.  But, hopefully, there will be a reason for me putting up something, like I’m learning a new processing technique, or I’m trying out something artsy and experimental, and I want to show everyone what I’m working on.  Or, just because it’s fun.

The minute this stops being fun, it is all getting shut down.  All of it.  Fact.

I have always said that this is a journey.  This site, my photography, my art, it’s all in motion.  Which means sometimes you go full throttle, and sometimes you need to pump the breaks before you do something stupid.

Post-Christmas Potpourri

Santa Clause 4

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Fun Festivus, and in general had an all around good holiday season.

Here are some random musings and updates.

I’m still loving my Nikon D610.  Every day I’m learning more about the settings, menus, capabilities of this beast.  My gear acquisition list is now as follows:

1) Nikkor 85mm f1.8G.  That will complete my old school 35/50/85 prime lens trifecta.  If I get any more lenses, I would like something very wide, maybe like a 17-35mm zoom, then a quality 135mm lens for really proper portraits, and then maybe a 60mm or 100mm macro lens.  I loved the macro stuff I did with my K-01, and I would dig picking up macro-photography again with my Nikon.  But, all that is way in the future.  Except the 85mm, that’s in the next month or so.  Hopefully.

2) Flash.  I’ve got my eyes on a Nikon SB-700 Speedlight for right now, with some modifiers, and hell, even a stand and umbrella.  Strobist on a budget, here I come.

Believe it or not, that’s actually it for right now.  I’m in a good place with my gear.  Moving on.

I’ve joined Model Mayhem.  I’ve said I wanted to shoot more people/portraits, so I’m putting myself out there.  Until I get the 85mm lens, I won’t be announcing myself too loudly, but just signing up is a start.  And looking around.  There are some really awful photographers out there.  And some frighteningly good ones.  Browsing MM is like a roller coaster of emotions going from, “Hell yeah, I can do way better than that” to “Oh, wow, I’ll never be able to do that.”  It’s quite fun, actually.

I’ve been shooting a lot more of my urban and suburban landscape lately.  It has been great to get back to that style.

Downtown Zumba Party 4

I also got a chance to hang out on the Strip and do some pseudo-“street” photography.Audience blogI tried it before with my K-01, but to be honest the auto-focus was so depressingly slow that I ended up missing far more shots than I got.  With the Nikon, it’s like going from a Nissan Cube to a Ford Mustang.  Understand, it’s still not a Ferrari, at least in terms of auto-focus speed, but it’s far better than I’ve had.  So, hopefully, more stuff like this.

That said, I do miss shooting cars.  It really is in my DNA.  I can’t wait for the new year when shows start ramping up again.  I’ve also got a couple of shoots planned out in my head, I need to start getting back on the phones and making things happen, again.

I’ve started spending more time on 4Chan’s /p/ board, their photography board. I’ve said it before, it’s my favorite photography forum on the web.  If you don’t know about 4Chan, then don’t worry.  It’s a bad, nasty place and you shouldn’t go there.

Lastly, I didn’t get out to shoot hardly any Christmas lights again this year.  That’s two years running now.   It’s a huge drag.  I’ll never get that series finished.  I have also not shot any film in a few months, either.  Another thing to put on the to-do list for next year.

Anyway, that’s a bit of an update for you.  Have a safe and happy New Years, and we’ll see you in 2015!