2012 In Review

Here we are at the end of 2012 and what a great year it has been.  While I don’t have a Top 10, I thought I’d run through some of the personal highlights that made this year so great.  Now I fully accept that I may be the only person interested in this, but by golly I’m doing it anyway despite the yawns and alt+tabbing. (Oh, you thought I couldn’t see that did you?)

This year I’ve read more books than I have in awhile and while that number isn’t impressive by any stretch, I still did it and count it towards my personal achievements.  As a person who used to live in books, my past non-reading has been a bit embarrassing.  This week I’ll finish up A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and then it’s off to Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.  That only leaves me with a gigantic stack of books (about 2’ high – I have the best intentions) that I’ve been meaning to read for a long while.

I wrote a lot of sketches this year, I got terrific feedback from Esther’s Follies on one I submitted to them, and we had a show that sold out over a three week run.  Fantastic!

I was involved in three film shoots – two were for sketches I had written and the other was for a fellow classmate’s sketch.  I can say that in my shoots, I was surrounded by incredibly amazing people who taught me a great deal.  I’ve learned a lot and hopefully, if we continue to shoot sketches, I’ll become a stronger director.   Right now, I’m more of the, “ummm hey guys like if you could maybe like ummm read the line like this… yeah, ok? Roll sound.  Roll camera.  Scene 1B Take 5. Action.” type.

Behind the scenes for Dunes

Below is my classmate Richard’s sketch “Good Morning” (you’ve gotten to see mine already – time for something new) where I got to play the role of Production Assistant and door slammer extraordinaire.  It turns out I not only have a knack for door slamming, but it’s really quite enjoyable. (Note: I got to slam that door no less than about 20 times.)  Now if I could only spin that into a job.  I know I’d excel.  Maybe move up the door slamming ranks until I became a Slammer Supervisor and allowed to slam two doors at once or maybe a French door on occasion – I mean, if my performance evaluations went well.

(Features many of the cast from our “Moral Compass Rumpus” show and all of the writers.)

I finally used my “big girl” camera and while I’m not entirely amazed by the results, I learned more about it and more about film (yes, yes, I’m a hold out).  Namely, that I may be investing in a DSLR vs. the SLR I have in the future.

Film – Chinese Lanterns – State Fair of Texas 2012

I’ve asked Seth a ton of questions and learned many new things.  Seth endured high school with me and is one of those insanely smart people who kindly puts up (for reasons I don’t understand but appreciate) with a random question a month.  Seth gets nothing in return save the knowledge that I’m kind of an amusing air head and that fuzzy good feeling that comes from helping the hopeless.  This year I’ve learned about topics from Copyright Law to Lomography to purple vs. the light spectrum.  He also tries to encourage me to use my camera. He claims it’s not scary.  I’m supposed to go on a photo stroll.  Yes, I will get on that. You can see Seth’s amazing photos here.

I’ve had some great times with some great friends despite April’s attempt to try and bump me off.  She’s now got me in a regular walking group.  I think her diabolical new plan is to make my heart explode.  In the last two months I’ve walked further and climbed higher than I have in a long time.  New muscles reintroduced themselves to me by way of “I can’t move my legs”.  Muscles like hip flexors said their hellos. Hey guys, where have you been?  Ouch.

I look forward to 2013.

100 Photos Before June

Chillin' by Big Blue Mess
Chillin’, a photo by Big Blue Mess on Flickr.

I have only confessed this to a couple of folks; I’m afraid of my camera. Sure, looking at it excites me, purchasing accessories for it makes me happy, but when faced with taking it outside I get anxious, then I tuck it away and grab my point-and-shoot. A month or so ago I was so relieved to find the batteries had died. Well, can’t take it out like I wanted to, no batteries you understand. Then when I tried to get the right batteries, my excuse was, “well, the rude teenager at Radio Shack didn’t want to make the sale, and I can’t get batteries anywhere else, you see”.

Admittedly, for me part of the problem is that my 35mm SLR camera uses film. The film part adds all the stress. Once I’ve committed to a shot, that’s that – there’s no flipping through the photos and deleting the ones I can’t stand. There’s no checking to see how it looks to see if I need to retake the photo. It’s taken and then it’s over. I’ve committed. No backsies. Then I have to take the film to the photo processing place (whoever is still left) and say a silent prayer for a day or more that I’m able to get at least one decent shot. I could have over/under-exposed every single photo and I won’t know until I’m opening up a little envelope looking at the photographic carnage that I had hoped would be my artistic shots. The pressure!

Now an acquaintance from high school had this brilliant idea, that I could set a goal and take 100 photos before June. Since it was before May, I believe, that he suggested this it seemed completely doable. I don’t think I even had to use the 35mm; it could be anything – just start taking photos until I was comfortable. He even offered to review the photos and give me tips. (He has had photos published online and in books. He’s hand-down one of my favorite photographers and having him offer to critique my work is a pretty big deal. He also mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers with its 10,000 hour rule (the idea being that the key to success in any given task is to spend 10,000 hours doing it – a theory my Dad has often talked about).  His advice was to just start taking the photos instead of whining and worrying.  Apparently, whining and worrying while not taking photos will not necessarily improve the quality of your work – or so they say – sounds like pop psychology to me.

I had a great opportunity this weekend when I went to East Texas to see my Dad, learn more about permaculture and see it in practice (Dad is doing some amazing things with his land).  Lots of ducks, ducklings, chicken and geese to see along with the bee hive, the orchard and various fruits and vegetables growing. We then headed out to the family graveyard for the Memorial Day celebration and potluck – with the old church, the graveyard and family I haven’t seen in years. I very purposefully left my real camera at home – nothing to take pictures of there! My excuse was, “well, I’ve taken photos of everything I want to take photos of out there. I have my iPhone if anything interesting appears.”

So, here it is – an iPhone photo at the family cemetery (don’t ask, I have no explanation – I mean, your family graveyard doesn’t have a fridge chained to a pole? What is wrong with you?) and one of only a handful of photos for June.

I think we’ll have to work on 100 Photos by August. I’ll have to come up with a new excuse on why I didn’t accomplish this feat since I did finally purchase the batteries (and not from an obnoxious Radio Shack clerk). I’m sure I’ll think of something.  Of course, I haven’t put them in the camera, yet so that’s a good excuse start. Baby steps.

Say “Cheese”

Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl"

I have a great smile.  You may be shocked at the immodesty of that statement, but of all the things I believe about myself it is that one thing – I have a great smile.  I have high cheekbones, full lips, straight teeth and dimples.  When I smile, my eyes crinkle up and I can make them twinkle.  Yes, twinkle.  That’s normally not an adjective that I want anywhere near me, but there you have it.  I have the kind of smile that people drop-by to see, “Beth, I just came by for your smile.” And I’ll flash them a grin.  “You just made my day.”

This also happens to be my “fake” smile as Mom often referred to  it – a combination of my Mother’s dimply smile enhanced by some of my Father’s traits.  My “real” smile is more primal and fortunately there are few pictures that capture it.  In fact the way you can distinguish: if I am glowing, that’s the fake smile.  If I look like I’m going to eat your face, that’s the real smile.

You’re probably thinking, “that’s all well and good that you believe you have a great smile – real or fake, but where are we going? Great hair next? Nice toe nails? C’mon!”  It starts with a rant.

from the Lib. of Congress

I recently posted a self-portrait on Facebook.  I’d been playing around with an application that was new to me on the iPhone called Hipstamatic.  It’s a camera application that adds interesting effects to digital photographs – like what you’d see if you still had one of those old plastic cameras (think Holga).  For a long time now I’ve been admiring a friend’s photography who has been creating some remarkable things with this tool. So, with my iPhone in hand, I wanted to give it a “shot” (the pun was mostly unintentional).  I ran around the house flipping settings, taking photos of our fuzzy family and finally turned the camera around on myself.  The first photo was interesting.   The expression on my face is one of concern with a hint of uncertainty as I was trying to find where the button was to take the photo.  It also looked nothing like me, but exactly like me if that makes sense.  The colors and shadows make a few interesting negative comments about my face – things that I like to believe go unseen, but despite it being a wholly wretched and unflattering picture of me, I really like it (not enough to share it here, mind you).  The next photo I took, I was leaning over the camera, hair falling around my face with another serious look.  It’s the face I typically wear when I’m not smiling.  The one I have on as I’m typing.  The light is playing off a mirror in the bathroom, but I don’t think most people would guess it was the middle of the night or that I was inside.  I liked this photo, uploaded it to Facebook and made it my profile shot.

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother"

The next day, I got the first reaction to my profile photo.  “Your face scares me.  The one you posted.”  Pardon? My “face” scares you?  “Are you going through some dark period? Why can’t you smile?  I’m really scared of that picture.”  I found myself defending it.  “I like it.  I am playing around with an app.  I like the effects.”  “Really, because it scares me.  I like the one where you’re smiling better.”  Well, at that point you might as well say, “Beth, please never change the new profile photo,” because let’s face it, that conversation guaranteed a long run of that photo.

Let’s put aside for a moment that this completely plays into some “ugly” issues I may nurture and turn it into what I find interesting in photography – portraits.  Sometime in the early 20th century camera technology advanced to the point where people no longer had to sit completely still for long periods of time in order to get a clear photograph.  Then along came a miserable man who invented the phrase “say cheese” and thus began our long-standing marching orders to always smile whenever a camera flashed.  It’s a shame.  I think in that instant, photos of people became a whole lot less interesting.  People replaced character with caricatures.

Some of the most beautiful photos I’ve seen are captured when people are in their most candid moments, whether they’re pensive, overwrought, or even genuinely amused – when they’re not “faking” an emotion simply because someone long ago dictated that smiling is the only acceptable emotion to convey on film.  Personally, I lean towards black and white portraits like Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph of the migrant farmer during the Dust Bowl.  In the simplest of interpretations, Florence Owens Thompson’s face conveys the hardship of the Great Depression; it’s poignant.  A smile, in that moment, would have completely detracted from the photo.  The kind of thing you find in a yellowing photo album and it would have been wholly inappropriate for what the photographer was trying to convey; it would no longer be a story.

So, while I can smile and smile beautifully, it’s not what interests me.  It’s fake.  And somedays I’m just not in the mood to ape a smile. I just want to see a picture of me.  I’m not going to waste time trying to discern what makes others feel more comfortable in a photograph of me.  Oh, and I still like the picture.

Big Blue Mess "Self Portrait"