Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking Pictures and Creating Art

Once upon a
time, when I began sharing my photos on
Flickr I wrote these words on my profile page:

I believe that art is a magnet for emotion. The greater the emotional response to a work or art - be it music, sculpture, video and cinema, still photography, painting, drawing, or any other media, or the natural or artificial spacial environment - the purer the art. The purer the art, the closer it gets to truth.

Since the crash of my backup drive last week and the loss of some 2,000 images forever I've found myself contemplating the difference between taking pictures and making art. Is what I lost (and indeed what I have), art? Adding to my philosophical dilemma is the completion of renovations to our home last week that created a significant amount of empty wall space -- space begging for the correct "filler". So given the style of the room and the mood I wanted to capture I have also been thinking about what should go up on those walls. I want it to be artful. And I want it to be born through my camera lens. But I wonder: Will it be art?

What I do believe, as I wrote a couple of years ago, is that Art is an emotional trigger. It's a way of honing in on Truth. Exposing the deepest reality. In my secular disposition, I suppose it edges on personal spirituality. To get there, I think, the artist has to do more than simply create something pleasing -- to the eye or to the ear (or to the palate for that matter). What you create has to be something you believe in -- something you are connected to. Something you love. An artist has to make the observer see through his eyes, hear through her ears, feel with his hands, love what she loves. I'm not at all sure that I'm there yet. Might never be. But it's a pretty good goal in life, don't you think?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Perils Of Tech Reliance...

Another brief note -- to remind everyone who cares about the content of their electronic media to backup, backup, backup your data. If not all 3 times, then twice. I have learned the hard way that reliance on a single backup and/or the usual integrity of your computer manufacturer is not always sufficient. 

The story is that I had finally caved in and ordered the upgrade to Apple OS 10.5.1 (Leopard) for my iMac. The machine's internal drive configuration required that I do a full upgrade process, including erasure of everything on my hard drive (after backing up to my external 500 gig backup drive). All went well until it came time to restore the stored components (program, data, and image files for the most part) -- at which time my computer no longer even recognized the existence of the external media. Using the disk utility "first aid" repair and verify feature I was duly informed that my nodes were bad -- fatal error. The guys at the Apple store confirmed it.
Six months worth of images gone (thankfully I had secondary backup on DVD for earlier work), not to mention programs, address books, calendars, email, software license agreements with verification codes, and on and on...

I have been a techno-centric person my entire life. When IBM introduced the first PC, I had one on my desk at work, doing development work in Lotus 1-2-3 for health care business application. Then came the IBM PC-XT with that massive 40 mb internal hard drive... you would think I would have learned by now. And I suppose I have. Heading out to buy two new external drives. These will be rotated on a weekly basis - with one being kept in my office so that I can never lose more than one week's worth of data (I know, never say never).

So the punch line here is that I will view this as an opportunity to start over in some regards. The 200+ photos from my trip north last week were safe in my camera, and are now downloaded (the one above was taken in the Greenlawn Nature Preserve in north Delaware while I moved the camera intentionally left to right). The vendors of my downloaded software have, so far, been universally cooperative and service-oriented in supplying me with license codes and fresh downloads (many thanks to Adobe, Pzizz, Photomatix, and Apple).


Friday, May 16, 2008

Spring - North Florida

A brief note while I have a few minutes. These days it seems the time just slips by while I either head in one of 17 different directions or just spin in circles. You'd think by this point in one's life it would be time to slow down a bit -- not speed up. But the RPMs keep increasing...

At any rate, I did manage to slow down enough last week to shoot this in the backyard...
This Magnolia Grandiflora blossom is from a tree that I planted at the rear of our property in 1990. It was the last remaining crooked little sapling at a parking lot flowering tree sale. Like Charley Brown's crummy little Christmas tree, no one else cared to take this one home -- scrawny and shaped like a J. We've watched  her grow for 18 years now -- to a height of well over 40 feet. Her gifts back to us are the annual celebrations of late spring's transition to more summer-like warmth. She still angles out of the ground at about 20 degrees, then heads strait for the sky -- the disability of her youth now an attactive platform to be climbed by my grandson. Just goes to show you -- you never know.

The image below is a small blossom in my sister-in-law's side yard in Winter Park, Florida, near Orlando. No idea what it is -- but it sure is pretty.
Welcome to spring... With Memorial Day weekend just a few days away, the heat of the Florida summer is about to be upon us.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pzizz... The Art of Sleep and Relaxation

I am not generally prone to commercial endorsements but I am about to make an exception for two very important reasons.
  1. The product works, at least for me, and,
  2. When I encounter exceptional customer service in a world where such service is the exception rather than the rule that it should be, I believe it is something that everyone should know about. Here's the story:
About a year or so ago, I was reading 43 Folders, Merlin Mann's productivity blog (excellent resource, multi-taskers...). Merlin was waxing poetic about a downloadable "power napping" program called Pzizz. It combines soft, soothing music and natural sounds with a gentle voice-over suggesting methods of relaxation and reinforcing the value of rejuvenating relaxation. Being a person who is always going in 3 or more directions at the same time, and also interested in finding ways to focus better, I bought the program, downloaded it onto my new iMac and started creating nap-tracks from 10 to 40 + minutes in length. Pzizz allows the user to choose how much, if any, voice over to include in combination with the music -- very customizable. The nap-tracks can be played on your computer speakers, burned to CD and played on your audio system, or directly downloaded to an iTunes playlist. My preference has been to drop them into iTunes, pop them onto my iPod, and use them with by noise-canceling headphones while flying (I commute frequently between Florida and the northeast), at the hotel, or at home when I feel like I could use a quick refresher nap.

Starting last fall -- September/October or so, I started having difficulty sleeping well ---- managing for the last 6 months only a few decent hours of sleep each night (folks prone to poor sleep tend to sleep even more poorly as they age). The Pzizz "Energizer" napping program has helped me rest and re-energize enough to manage my busy life. Several days ago as I was stretched out on my favorite leather recliner under the headphones, it occurred to me that Pzizz had a "Sleep" module in addition to the Energizer map module (one focused on putting you into deep, long sleep without the beeps at the end that bring you back to your day). So off I went to the Pzizz website, and sure enough they have both modules available. So I drop the very reasonable cost of the Sleep module, and at the same time agree to upgrade my Energizer nap module to the latest version (Pzizz has an unlimited upgrade program when you purchase their products).

After downloading the modules, you receive an e-mail from Pzizz containing your license numbers, which you must enter into the proper place in the program to enable the use of the modules. Mine contained one license number (for the Sleep program, which worked perfectly) but none for the Energizer, which was now disabled. I shot an e-mail off to the company through their website asking about the second license number, and proceeded to create a Sleep track to use that evening. Regarding #1 above, I had the best night's sleep that night that I've had in recent memory (I woke up long enough to take the headphones off and go back to sleep). That's a very big deal to folks who know what it's like to not sleep well. The three nights since have been equally peaceful.

Regarding #2, I received a very fast response from the President of the company indicating that my original purchase was not in their database, and requesting that I provide additional information (an original e-mail if I had it, or information on a third party vendor). Well, I had neither -- and responded that I would still be happy to pay the balance of the package discount price for the two modules. The response? An e-mail containing a new license number for the Energizer and a note from the President in response to my subsequent thank-you note that it was possible that it was their error, they believed me, and were more interested in a happy customer than an additional nineteen bucks. How often do you get that kind of customer service in this world of drive-by, squeeze the buck out of the rock retailing??? Hence my need to spread the word. Visit their website -- take a look -- try the free trial -- do the research -- read the reviews (other than mine). You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

For the Love of a River

When Mrs. Muse, the kids and I moved to Mandarin on the Saint Johns twenty-some years ago, we came because of the rural flavor of the place -- 12 miles south of downtown Jacksonville. Our house was on a small residential street, off of a two lane road, off of another two lane road. We still live in that same house, on the same street -- which now connects to a 3-lane road, off of a 5 lane road off of the I-295 outer belt. Subdivisions filled with big homes on small lots have replaced the open fields that surrounded us. Those homes are now filled with nearly 100,000 new neighbors. Progress is an opinion. But through it all the St. Johns River has remained our constant companion. A reminder of simpler times, of the constancy of nature, of the flow of life that we try, but cannot ultimately control no matter how many of us come to her banks.

This first photo is among my favorite river images. This is the County Dock at the north east side of Mandarin Point, reaching into the River just a few hundred yards east of the spot where Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) lived, a few hundred yards further east of the site of the sinking of the Union side-wheel steamer, Maple Leaf during the Civil War (around here known by natives as the War of Northern Aggression), and a few miles north of Beluthahatchee, the home of my friend Stetson Kennedy, author of the Klan Unmasked and many other books (Stetson called me one night several years ago insisting that I take the following day off work, bring Mrs. Muse, and come over to his house to meet the son of one of his old friends -- turns out the old friend was Woody Guthrie, and we spent that remarkable day with Arlo Guthrie and his family -- the subject for a future post).

This is the river at its pristine best. The river of Harriet Beecher Stowe and the steamships that brought passengers and supplies to her backyard. The river of Mandarin's undeveloped past. The artist's, photographer's, and songwriter's inspiration.

The River is also a reflection of the human activity along its banks and in the catchment area for miles on both sides from which ground water runoff flows into it both directly and through her tributary streams. The Saint Johns flows north for 310 miles from its source near Fellsmere Florida in Indian River County (the upper St. Johns) to its terminus near Mayport where she connects with the Atlantic Ocean (the lower St. Johns). Several million people live within 10 miles of the river on either side -- people who have arrived looking for the Florida lifestyle. The yard runoff from a few hundred-thousand homes, whose owners innocently pour nitrogen-based fertilizers into their St. Augustine grass lawns that ends up in the river. The nitrogen-rich effluent is taken up by algae that normally lives quietly and unobtrusively in the river. Fed by this chemical super-food, it grows and proliferates until it looks like this (photo taken last weekend while standing on the County Dock pictured above).

The "Green Monster" river slime sucks the oxygen out of the river and blocks the sunlight, stunting or stopping the growth of the normal riverine flora and fauna. This changes the river's micro-environment at its most fundamental level -- basically reducing or eliminating the bottom rung of the food-chain. The impact ultimately runs all the way to the top of that ladder and spreads out from the banks to the main channels. What we will eventually end up with is a dead, or certainly dying river. The Saint Johns is a living organism - a treasure - with a preventable terminal disease.

My river is honored to be among a handful of American National Heritage Rivers, so named four or five years ago. Last month the Saint Johns was also named number six among the nations most endangered rivers. You can help reverse the damage to this national treasure by contributing as I do, both time and resources to the St. Johns Riverkeeper. Some things are worth sacrificing for.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Music To My Eyes

I consider myself fortunate to be able to combine my two primary hobbies -- music and photography -- when I attend and perform at Florida's many outdoor acoustic music festivals. The photo at right was taken while an informal group of 3 or 4 musicians was just hanging out an playing together beside the old school building at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement last weekend. There is artistry and Art everywhere you look at these gatherings. Nothing moves me more than the elegant turn of a phrase that cuts strait to the heart. The Art of language is a powerful tool. The precision of a guitar players fingers drawing just the right note, right tone, right volume, from the gold and silver strings that run the fret board can turn me to utter awe. The Art and strength of the skilled player is an emotional catalyst. Then there is the beauty in the sculptured wood and wire of the player's instruments. The one-of-a-kind hand-crafted creations that are Art unto themselves, played or unplayed -- kinetic and potential energy. The last I will mention here is the varied sounds of the vocal artist. The singer of the words -- sweet, deep, high, low, rough, refined, wild. The ultimate human expression of emotion, connection, separation, joy, despair. I do consider myself a lucky man to be part of this world. Both observer and participant, artist and critic, creator and audience. And the best of it all is the friendships -- passing and lasting -- that arise out of this Art experience. I have shared in the rich rewards of friendship -- and that's good enough for me... a song lyric. Lucky indeed.