Monday, December 27, 2010

2011 Creativity Resolution...

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, it seems. I, for one, am well accomplished at failing to fulfill my intentions as planned at the onset of each annual calendar flip. Mrs. Muse and I have already discussed this dangerous business for the imminent next year and among my desired outcomes (no longer committed resolutions – know thyself) are to watch [much] less TV (broken in the previous three years), walk [meaningfully] every day  (broken in the previous two years), and eat well (broken for the last twenty or so years). Less television could potentially equate to several additional hours per day for more meaningful pursuit. Thus my single, really meaningful desired objective for 2011 is to increase my artistic creativity. This is, after all, the stuff that truly feeds my soul. And makes me happy. Jefferson was really big on the pursuit of Happiness thing – and as he is my philosophical hero this would seem to make sense from multiple perspectives.

I read somewhere several times (probably in blogs about making resolutions), that making a public statement of one’s commitment increases the probability of success. Exactly how much isn’t clear, but given my record of past failures any increase in the odds can’t be a bad thing. So this shall then be my public commitment. But first the protective retreat and rationalization…

Photography and music are not my primary vocations. I am a fairly busy health professional working in the field of clinical research ethics and regulation. I travel for a week or more out of the month, and am thoroughly committed to the good things that we do for the right reasons (I work in a non-profit organization devoted to children’s health). This can be intense, rewarding, time consuming, frustrating, stimulating and challenging. That said, I believe that my creative passions contribute to my professional success, and my professional discipline contributes to my artistic success. The photography and music are also my creative refuge – a fortress to keep the stress at bay. And so I annually develop my professional objectives to keep my focus on what must be done in that most important of my worlds, and now also the creative objectives – to primarily keep me sane, gratified and invigorated – and secondarily to vitalize my professional contribution.

So the first commitment is to finish the 1,000 Doors Project – the recording of my music that was begun more than a year ago. We’re closing in on that one. The second is to turn that spare bedroom into a combined music room and homemade photography studio. Not the kind of studio that one brings clients in for family portrait sittings, but truly a place to “study” the art of photography – a small space to learn and practice. To visualize and invent. To improvise and experiment. I want to learn to create art, not to take pictures – to create the extraordinary from the ordinary. Or not.

I’ll share the successes and failures with you here – sonic and visual – and at the end of 2011 we’ll find out if I managed to succeed to some degree, or develop the art of procrastination to yet another barely achievable height. Stick around….

Sunday, December 19, 2010

50mm Photo Meme, Part II

This is a continuation of the previous thread, as promised. The final 3 days of photos shot using only a 50mm lens, on the 50th week of the year. I tool the liberty of adding an 8th, just because I like the way it turned out...

Thursday: Saint Francis

Friday: Acosta Bridge Ramp (3-exposure HDRI)

Saturday: Florida Rain

Bonus: Wire and Wood

A great week to all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

50mm Photo Meme

This is the 50th week of the year, and the folks at one of the Nikon users websites have started a 50mm lens meme thread. I thought it would be fun to participate, as I have a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D lens. The idea is to shoot with only a 50mm lens, pick your best shot of the day for each day of the week, and post it to the thread. Through 4 days, I have seen some great shots using the "normal" lens (normal because 50mm closely mimics human sight), and been inspired creatively. Relative to most of the others mine are nothing special, but here are the first four -- I'll post the remaining three after the weeks ends...

Sunday: Live Oak Tree

Monday: Lights with Staircase

Tuesday: Gator

Wednesday: Face In The Wall

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Attack of the Robot Voiced Animations...

Today I discovered, the website that  brought us the animated explanation of quantitative easing that was bot funny and educational. Turns out you can build you own for free using an assortment of characters and editing options... very cool stuff! I produced this one with no learing at all in about 5 minutes... Look out. This is going to be fun...

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Joy of Fast Glass

I recently caved in a acquired a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens. After testing several copies of the Nikon D and G 85s, looking at other folk's images with this new Sigma offering, and comparing price / value -- I settled for value. I have not been disappointed.

The primary reasons for purchasing a "fast" lens are 1) the ability to isolate your primary subject with a wide aperture that creates a very shallow depth of field, and 2) shooting in low light with minimal or no flash. These features make it an excellent portrait lens. I don't shoot many portraits, but I do shoot many low-light situations (concerts), and love the isolation effect on the focal point. So... I took a day out of the office today and, among other things, took a quick hike through the Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve in the south Mandarin area of Jacksonville.

This turned out to a fun lens for shooting outdoors, even in imperfect early afternoon light. The trip gave me the opportunity to try out new techniques and alternate camera settings compared with my habitual static style. I shot these in digital RAW at 14-bit depth. The extra bits increases the range of color variants available (by tens of thousands).

It was great to get out a bit, on the day before the first hard freeze of the season here in Northeast Florida. We're expecting 12 hours of sub-freezing temperatures tonight (temperatures in the mid to low twenties fahrenheit -- hey, that's cold for Florida!), and our world be be much browner tomorrow.

Today also happens to be the 35th anniversary of the day that Mrs. Muse and I ties the knot... another bridge crossed....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ormond Beach Riverfest, 2010

Not much time to blog these days, but to lighten the mood around this place a little bit here are a half dozen random photos from this past weekend in Ormond Beach. Mrs. Muse and I met our compadres from the Ashley Gang, and played a few sets on the main stage (not pictured here), and had some fun running around to listen to a few of our old friends from the Florida music scene...

AL Scortino -- my partner in crime in the Ashley Gang and songwriter extraordinaire

Rog Lee

Steve Waters of the French Connection and  M.T. Pawkett's Review

Bob Bronar (left) with Larry Mangum (smooth and versatile)

Donna Frost -- came in from Nashville for the weekend

Under the U.S. 40 bridge over the Halifax River (east coast intracoastal waterway)

Wishing all of you here in the States a happy Thanksgiving -- and all the best to everyone, wherever you happen to be!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Racism In Black and White

No, this is not about monochrome photography. Not today. Today I am stepping away from my socially safe worlds of photography and music to describe a highly non-artistic picture that was painted for me during a noon walk around the tree-lined suburban office park where I work. When the weather is cool enough here in the deep south, as it was today, I will head out for a stroll around the mile and a quarter loop along which are built several dozen large office complexes. It’s all new and modern. Tree-lined streets and driveways, well landscaped buffers between the main road and the sidewalk and the parking lots, retention ponds with parks and benches. The noon hour generally brings out walkers and runners, and today started like any other – me chugging along slowly, watching nature, runners and faster walkers passing by every few minutes from both directions. Most of the folks heading the other way will say hello, or at least nod. A young oriental woman with a bottle of water walked – actually half jogged -- past me then slowed to a fast walk as she made the left turn to stay on the loop. I thought nothing of it as she continued down the sidewalk about 25 yards in front of me.

Perhaps a minute later I watched her take a quick turn into the street, back into her light jog. Coming toward me on the sidewalk just before the location that the woman hit the street was a large black man, casually dressed. The woman’s sidelong glances at him, the over-the-shoulder checks and she moves away, made it crystal clear that he was the reason for her departure from the concrete onto the asphalt. About 10 more yards down the road, she cut across the grass barrier and returned to the sidewalk at a walking pace, still looking back. She looked back several more times as she continued down the sidewalk. As I walked up to, then just past the man, he turned and looked back at her and softly muttered:
I stopped and turned back to him to acknowledge his remark.
            “Not you, man,” he said, no doubt thinking I was offended, “her. Racist-ass bitch.”
            “You’re right,” I said. “You’re right, I saw it.”
The look in his eyes was more disbelief than anger – through there was clearly some of that, too. I walked on and watched the woman walk down one of the driveways towards a glass office building. She continued to look back in the direction of the black man, who just stood there staring back. How simple it is to wreck a fellow human being’s lunchtime walk.
            I try not to judge. I have no way of knowing what that woman’s life experiences have been. After all, she did speed up to get by me and didn’t slow to a walk until she perceived a safe distance. Maybe she fears all men, though she clearly, and perhaps overtly, avoided the black one. It was like she was trying to make a point of it. If she was, he got that point. Strait between the eyes. It was hard to watch. And all I could do was say “you’re right”. I have no similar experience to draw from and offer empathetic sympathy. Sometimes people just suck. No pictures. Not today.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jeff and Tina's Wedding

Our vacation started with a trip to northern Ohio for the wedding of Mrs. Muse's brother, Jeff, to the lovely Tina. Once again it was good to NOT be the paid wedding photographer (not a job I would want), but I had fun pretending that I knew what I was doing...

The practice handoff at the rehearsal...

Dad and step-dad, equally important in Tina's life, head down the aisle...

Catching their eyes mid-ceremony...

Lighting the Unity Candle - in with the new, out with the old...

Flower girl making a grab for spiritual food...

Let the games begin!

First dance -- and last photo for today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Savannah...

I wanted to share a bit more of Savannah with you...

The photo above is the altar inside Saint John the Baptist Cathedral. I love church architecture for it's creativity and symbolism. This image is strait out of the camera, no post-processing. Sometimes you just get lucky... (you can click on any of these photos to see a larger, more detailed image).

Below is the road into the Wormsloe Plantation... truly an old southern plantation. So old, in fact that the old tabby plantation house is no longer standing; only a few remnants of the coquina and tabby covered walls remain.

The drive into the plantation is about three-quarters of a mile long tunnel of arched oaks above a crushed shell road.

Old Savannah is a city of squares (no, not the population -- but the street grid). Each square has it's own character and centerpiece...

This black and white of an open globe is in one of the squares about 4 blocks from the inn where we stayed (I forget the name of the square). Many have statues of famous people in Savannah history, others have sculptures, or simple sitting areas.

I mentioned in my previous post that I had shot quite a few Savannah doors to use in the cover art for my upcoming solo CD project, "1,000 Doors". Here is an example of why...

Finally -- every entrance has to have an exit. The image below is one of dozens taken in the old Boniventure Cemetery -- site of the voodoo scene from the movie version of "Midnight In The Garden of Good An Evil" (the entire film was shot in Savannah and is based on a true story). Until next time, here is an appropriate image for Halloween season...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Savannah, After Dark....

Mrs. Muse and I have just completed a brief automobile tour of the eastern United States... Florida to Ohio (for a family wedding) and back, with leisurely stops for a day or two or three at destinations in between. So we'll begin at the end -- three days in Savannah, Georgia. The historic southern city that was left unmolested during the US Civil War, and our favorite weekend getaway spot. We stayed at the McMillan Inn -- a 150 year old restored Bed and Breakfast that we have visited each year for the last five. Joe and Cindy Celento are wonderful hosts, the accommodations are superb -  at the edge of the historic district about two blocks from the famous Forsyth Park, and the breakfasts are the most decadent we have experienced...

Spanish moss hangs above a brick street

Savannah is a photographers delight -- a target-rich environment. These first few photos were taken during a nighttime stroll around a few of the streets north of the river, near our lodgings. No flash, just a basic 50mm f/1.8 lens, camera set up for black and white...

The United Methodist Church

Savannah is a church town -- 19th century houses of worship abound and steeples rule the skyline. After dark the religious facades produce a gothic effect -- especially in black and white, then smoothed a bit in post-processing...

I spent a good deal of time, both day and night, shooting Savannah doorways. Many of these will be used in the cover art for my new CD "1,000 Doors" (assuming I eventually finish the thing!).

An Arched Doorway

There is character at every turn in Savannah... the full set of our night walk photos are here. More photos in the days to come -- from Savannah (including Bonaventure Cemetery), Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (my political and philosophical hero), the mountains of West Virginia, and an Ohio storybook wedding... Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back Soon...

The Muse is on vacation -- back in a week with interesting tales of of weddings and historical heroes. Lots of photos as well.

Be healthy.
Be safe.
Feed your brain.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Grant Peeples - Okra, Ecclesiastes, and Leftneck Honey

Grant Peeples

Grant Peeple's arrived at the European Street listening room in Jacksonville last night with the latest rendition of The Peeples Republik Band, and in his purely Grant Peeples' way, entertained the heck out of a pretty decent Thursday night audience. Every move, right down to his scripted sales pitch for Sopchoppy's own LeftNeck Tupelo Honey (attractively modeled by the lovely Susan Brown), was designed to exploit his audience's attention -- in order to instill his version of their own good. Grant doesn't just have a point of view, he IS a point of view. What you hear...and what you see... is exactly what you get. The evening was a nearly perfect mix of Grant standards (The Hanging) and new tunes (My People Come From The Dirt) for his planned third recording that he'll start working on in November.

Susan Brown

Grant takes his audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, slipping from the far side of musical humor  to the bottom of an emotional pit dug deep in the dirt of rural, impoverished Florida -- the significant bits of this state that they don't advertise to the tourists. And last night he was spot-on with a crew of talented musicians for support. Mike Legacy flat picked lightening fast lead guitar licks that were slick enough to impress, yet had just enough rough-around-the-edges necessary to the Peeples ambiance.

Mike Legacy

Eric Avlar, a music student at Florida State University, who was told he couldn't study the mandolin there, took up the bass instead. Eric supplied a sure steady, and often inventive foundation. How often to you get to hear a bass solo in a folk or americana tune? We got a great one last night. Eric also picked up the mandolin on short notice and tastefully filled in the blanks...

Eric Avlar

Susan Brown, who has been featured on these pages previously for her ever refined performances with partner Jamie DeFrates, added the feminine counterpoint essential to the Peeples' music. Harmonies and solo passages beautifully sung also point to the versatility of Grant's writing. Not many tough guys can write well for a woman's point of view. He does that really well.

Behind the band and generally out of camera range sat Randy Judy, providing percussion accents with a set of bongo drums, an inverted cardboard box, and a set of drummer brushes.

Overall it was Grant Peeples entertaining his people at his philosophical and musical best. Not to mention that song "Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns". You'll need to buy the new CD -- or track Grant down in performance before he hits the studio in November to hear that one. It can be a struggle to be a niche musician in a country with a 15 second attention span and an addiction to dance music. Grant Peeples is capitalizing pretty well in that situation. His fans, including me, hope that he can raise enough capital to continue raging against the machine for a long, long time to come.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gamble Rogers Folk Festival Benefit Concert -- Good Stuff!

This past Saturday evening, the fine folks who run the Gamble Rogers Folk Music Festival in Saint Augustine each spring were kind enough to put together a show to benefit that incredible event. The Festival honors local musician-hero James Gamble Rogers, who died in 1991 attempting to save a drowning tourist off of Flagler Beach. The benefit featured acts native to Saint Augustine -- some of the finest around -- and was hosted by Gamble's protege, Bob Patterson, who kept us laughing and crying with his tales of Gamble and assorted personal misadventures...


The show was opened by the Morse Family Band -- mom and her five talented kids who combined have that special sonic blend that can only be attributed to DNA. A sweet blend of old-time and gospel tunes, spiced with a bit of bluegrass for good measure. Look for their first recording, which should be available by the end of the year...

The Morse Family Band

Next to take the stage were Jamie DeFrates and Susan Brown -- two of my favorite people on the planet. Original songs sung by voices that soar to impossibly beautiful places and land dead in the center of your heart. Guitar wizardry that compliments the melodies and lyrics perfectly. Their version of Jamie's "Gravity" ends with Susan and Jamie vocally playing off of each other as if Newton discovered the physical concept specifically for them -- and for our enjoyment...

Jamie and Susan

Describing Charlie Robertson and his music is like trying to explain calculus in ten words or less. A complicated man with an intellect as broad as the sky, the use of derivatives might well be necessary to calculate the number of words - meaningful words - Charlie can fit into a song. Dealing with mental health damages and the Dalai Llama's birthday in the same breath. Or a chain saw wielding retired priest. Or the unfortunate and unknown demise of a mutual friend... Charlie is one of Saint Augustine's great gifts to my philosophical experience.


Last, and certainly not least, we were treated to Men Of The House -- a father, his two sons (both classically trained violinists turned hard core fiddlers), and one of those Morse boys on banjo. The guys don't play music -- they attack it with a spirit and passion that is both rough and resounding. Irish bar tunes, foot stomping medleys of celtic fiddle tunes, a sweet Jay Ungar waltz. Speed and caution, foot slamming and tip toes. Broken fiddle bridges and audience rocking speed-burner strumming that left bow hair strewn around the stage like so much straw.  That's what happens when you treat your violin like a rip saw. Cool.

Men Of The House

Great music for a great cause among great friends. Can't ask for much more than that....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grant Peeples -- One Unique Individual

Grant Peeples calls himself an "Americana" musician / singer-songwriter. The first time I met Grant he scared the $#!t out of me... and that's a good thing -- or a SWEEEEEEEET deal... a bit scruffy around the edges, shaved head, tatoo or three. His music rises from the dirt. Gut level, feel the pain, been there, got the rash pureness that you don't hear much. Truthiness. He'd hate that. Maybe not.

Next time I met Grant we hugged like long lost brothers. With different mothers AND fathers. But this man gets to me. He has the guts that I don't have -- to take the chance with the contents of your heart and soul, expose it to the world, and just hope it pays you back enough to make the next gig. Here's a bit of Grant's ruminating about the recent Americana Music Conference in Nashville:

What the hell is Americana Music?
It’s sort of a running joke at the annual Americana Conference:    What IS Americana Music?  
 The definition I myself came up with this year was:    “Americana music is the music you don’t hear when you are scanning the radio dial.”    Cute, huh?
I had almost compartmentalized the proverbial  “conference experience” and moved on.   But then, in the USA Today this past Tuesday, there was a huge story about Robert Plant. (Yeah, the Lead Zepplin dude.)    Robert Plant and Alison Krauss had THE biggest record on the Americana charts last year, “Raising Sand”.   
And now,  this year,  Mr. Plant has assembled an All-Star cast of band members to form, “Band Of Joy,” which is sure to be the #1 Americana touring act between now and the NEXT Americana Conference.
So…I have to ask:   Was I the only one that noticed that the USA Today story never ONCE said “Americana” music?    They called it “American” music.    Damn. Every time I think this Americana thing might be getting some traction, I realize the truth is....the wheels are still spinning.   
Can anybody say:   “Mar-ke-ting-con-sul-tant?”
Grant will be making an in-person live appearance in Jacksonville next Thursday night (September 23), 8:30 at the European Street Listening Room on San Marco in Jacksonville. I'll be there annoying the crap out of him with my camera. You'll find photos and a review here. In the meanwhile... check this out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Gatorbone Trio - Photos and Review

Lon, Lis, Gabe

Another Saturday night at the European Street listening room on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville. Another fantastic ninety minutes of the best acoustic music Florida has to offer...  The Gatorbone Trio, Lis Williamson, Lon Williamson and Gabe Valla, blend flawlessly into a montage of restfully simple to startlingly complex vocal and instrumental bliss. In their various incarnations (depending on who is performing with them) as the Driftwoods, The Gatorbone Band, or the Trio, these folks more than anyone I know should be performing on the biggest stages before the biggest audiences. They are as good as anyone out there today.


Lis Williamson is the vocal heart and soul of the trio. Her sweet, lilting, voice is equally at home with her original 1940's style tunes ("Do the Town", Deep") from her recently release solo album "Deep", to American roots tunes like her self-penned "Cracker Girl", to tragic ballads like "Bell of the Mine". ANd lis is no slouch instrumentally -- she strums her Martin guitar as an expert rhythm player while effortlessly grabbing complex jazz chords with her left hand like she was born to it. Her claw-hammer style banjo playing in excellent, and tasteful (even for a banjo!), adding variety and texture.


Lon Williamson  is the trio's backbone -- his effortless bass perfectly supporting the broad range of styles with a firm, tasteful foundation. His smooth harmonies blend beautifully with Lis's lead vocals, and when he takes the lead on one of his original tunes you can feel the depth of his commitment to the pictures he paints with his lyrics.


Gabe Valla. Wow. Gabe is simply the most versatile flat-picking guitar and mandolin player around. He is smooth, fast, complex, and intuitive on both instruments, and a creative composer of instrumental tunes (another style at which the trio excels). From bluegrass to ballads, Gabe puts together just the right blend of creative chord structures and lead breaks that leave journeyman guitar pickers like me wondering how he imagined that, and how his fingers covered the notes. Often adding a third harmony vocal,  self-effacing young man is the definition of musical talent.

Lon and Lis

So okay, I'm a little biased -- Lis and Lon are co-producing my new solo project and Gabe is recording some back-up instrumental tracks for me -- but these guys are the real deal. You can read more and LISTEN to a few of their tunes here. And for information on upcoming shows at the European Street listening rooms (including my band on September 25th), click here.