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  • My Images Are Me: Visual Language and Comfort

    My Images Are Me: Visual Language and Comfort

    I learned to speak English when I was about 5 years-old. My first language was Vietnamese, but life in the United States in the 1970s left little room for multicultural education or a bilingual one. My parents (American and Vietnamese) agreed that my mother would stop speaking Vietnamese to my brother and I when we started American elementary school. The decision was to protect us from linguistic discrimination, to eliminate as best we could a spoken accent so we could pursue opportunities in America. Quickly, I lost my first language and grew fluent in my second.

    I’ve made an education and a professional life in the field of English: composition and rhetoric, marketing, teaching. But it’s always a struggle, using English, trying to find the right word for the right meaning or correct usage. Sometimes my mind just goes blank–nothing comes up that will mean or say what I am thinking about. I have to ask others for those words.

    Before they’re on the page, before I can see them as a collection of letters–words, in their first life, are images. They are pictures floating in my mind: sharp and dull, changing and still, vivid and faded. My words are approximations, though, the best I can do but seldom exactly as I am. Words imitate and mime. They pretend to be images or ideas by comparison or remembrance, evocations of other stories, an approximation by association. I use metaphors a lot to explain ideas or feelings. It is how I actually see ideas–as pictures. Unlike words, my images are ideas, and they are real. They are mine and say most directly what I am thinking, say what I am feeling. I lose the struggling and straining when I photograph. When I take a photo, I don’t need a translator, as my words sometimes are.

    My images are me.

    Photo: "No Smoking," iPhone 3Gs, Sept. 2010

  • Geometry of Stories

    Geometry of Stories

    Everything goes away, and we fuss about it. How long will this be here before it goes? What comes next?

    Mornings and evenings. Beginnings and endings. They are what grab our attention, what we tend to remember, what we want to fill or extend.  Middles are a little more complex, a lot less tidy. Everything changes in the space between arrivals and departures. What fills the gaps between the two are the stories we live and tell–about how we move from starts to ends, what we find between, forces with and against us and within us, where we work the angles.

    A spattering of disparate moments, dots on this white page, scattered here and there, are the many middles of this life. Flashes, afterimages floating across the eye. One after the other, they make little sense. They bounce. Collapse causality, segue to coincidence, ride the serendipity of chance.

    It’s in this flux of scenes that fade in and out that I consider the plausibility of my life not being quite as chaotic or random as I had imagined, not senseless or obscure. Maybe these dots don’t arrange themselves into a level line; maybe I should stop trying to force their geometry. All my ends and beginnings are middles, and it’s okay. Our collections of middles make living round.

    Photo: Bow/Edison, Wash. iPhone 3Gs in 2011

  • Mirror

    Mirror

    Sometimes what comes back to me startles. It shakes me from deep within. Upends assumptions. Corrupts my absolutes. Shatters.

    I find sometimes the images I make are ones that might best conform to what I expect to encounter, what I anticipate seeing or what will be come (within a frame) a photograph. How do I see what I expect not to see? How do I begin to peel back the layers of my own influence upon the subject. What is possible and what is not possible? There is as much erasing in a photograph as preserving, a disappearing, perhaps of independence or autonomy. Maybe it’s ego that the photograph reveals — my own that is. Maybe that’s the shaking I feel when I look for the first time at what I thought I saw, grappling to recognize the forces within this exchange of looking and being looked at.

    As the image attracts, it does so, in the end, by attracting us to ourselves in a kind of mirror, our own not-quite-accurate reflection of ourselves that the photographic image projects and to which we reach, which pulls us. Maybe it’s a revelation that shatters, like the mythical Narcissus falling into the reflective pool of his own self-importance. We can, collapse–devastatingly–into what is, in the end, not reality or beauty or truth but an image.

  • Work Flow for Monochrome iPhone Photos

    Work Flow for Monochrome iPhone Photos

    Processing a standard iPhone image into a pleasing monochrome photo involves a simple but powerful workflow as well as attention on getting the best possible image you can at the start.

    Capturing
    First, there’s the camera app. I seldom use Apple’s native camera. Instead, I use ProCamera to capture photos. It’s just about perfect: ability to select preferred ratios, independent exposure and focus with ability to lock each, burst mode, image stabilization, and so forth. The key to a good finished photo is taking the best possible image you can. No amount of editing can overcome a badly taken photo. Period.

    For people who do use Apple’s camera, and want to instantly improve their smartphone photo, tap on the screen to set focus and exposure beforesnapping the shutter. I know a lot of people who think that box on the screen is focusing or expos using their shot. It’s not; the box is for facial recognition. Also, when shooting in challenging, low-light situations, monochrome is far more forgiving than color.

    Second, shoot with the intention of converting to black and white or shoot with an app that captures in monochrome. I prefer Vint B&W MII, when I want to capture in monochrome or several of the Hipstamatic bw filters. Now, Vint BW also features the ability to import via the camera roll. Treating monochrome as an after-thought or a filter choice isn’t sufficient. Pay attention to form, structures, patterns, and always, the light. In photographing people, it’s their expressions that will come through, rather than apparel for example. Pay attention to gray tones, shadows, mood, etc. as you’re observing the scene.

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    Captured in ProCamera and post-processed with Vin B&W MII

    Editing
    I use 3 apps for processing: Film LabPhoto FX, and Snapseed. These apps have independent adjustments for their features, which is a must. Each does something very well that the other, in my opinion does not. I happen to prefer the look of film photography, so I’m less concerned with sharpness. That’s me. I like strong tonal contrast: inky blacks and bright whites most of the time. So, I my editing goal is to achieve my aesthetic “look.”

    I also take notes of what I choose, the degree of the settings, and more or less stick with these. The reason for this attention is I want to replicate the style. It can be disappointing to place your monochrome photos together and realize later that you haven’t a consistency in tones: some bluish, some brownish, and so forth. Repetition is a form of cohesion, helping photographers to achieve a a discernible style across a body of work.

    In Film Lab, I desaturate the image, stripping it of color and leaving a monochrome image. I  select one of many bw filters to apply. Then, I import into PhotoFX to fine tune and adjust tones. I’m trying to increase contrast most of the time, without blowing out or overly darkening any important information in the frame. In Snapseed, I adjust brightness, sometimes crop or level, and others depending if something is needed. Often, the image doesn’t go into Snapseed at all.

    It takes me about 5-10 minutes to edit. I’m less interested in post-editing work, so I try to keep what I do after image capture to a minimum. My interest as a photographer is in observation, composition, and framing.

    Sharing
    I’ve reduced my share spots to FlickrGoogle+EyeEm, and Facebook. I don’t always share the same photos in the same places. Of these, it’s mostly Flickr that gets all of the publicly shared images, both from mobile photography and other formats. Partly, this is because it serves as a kind of “off site” back up and also because its the engine for images on my blog.

    Let me know what your tips are for shooting/editing monochrome photos.