Photography – anyone can do it, right?

WARNING:  This post contains language which may be construed as self-pitying or possibly downright whiny.  If you choose to read on, remember – You Were Warned!

If I had the space (and extra cash), I would be one of those photographers who works not only in digital but who spends countless hours in a darkroom to create prints that look as close to perfect as I can get them.

This is partly because I love working in darkrooms, but also because when you develop your prints in a darkroom, it is harder for people to dismiss the work that went in to getting the shot.    Even though taking the shot and developing the shot are two entirely different things, people seem to give more credence to photography as an art form when the prints come from a darkroom.    The is especially true since the onset of reasonably priced digital SLRs and the plethora of cheap editing software.  Digital photography has become something people seem to think anyone can do well.   (And ok, it IS easier to accidentally get a good shot, what with all the auto functions on SLR’s, but that doesn’t make you a good photographer.)

I work hard at this photographic hobby of mine, sometimes spending several hours to get the one photo I will post as part of the ongoing “photo of the day” project my friend Karen and I started way back in March of this year.   I’ve done a National Geographic Photo Walk and learned various techniques to use when shooting at night from 4 of their amazing photographers, and since then I try never to use any of the auto settings on my Canon.  I’m not the best photographer in New York – maybe not even the best in my building (it’s a big building) but my goal is to always improve the composition and story of my photos.

This is why it is beyond frustrating when someone looks at a photo like the one below, which took several hundred frames to capture exactly the way I wanted, and have them say “That must be a really good camera!”

Well, yes, it is a decent digital SLR but it wouldn’t get this shot all by itself!  If the camera was on Auto it would try to use the flash, and if you simply turned off the flash you would have no control over the shutter speed, aperture, etc.

Photography is the only art form, I think, which suffers from this prejudice.  Painting and drawing don’t because there is no way to accidentally create an amazing portrait or painting.   Dance doesn’t because you can’t buy pointe shoes or a leotard that will do most of the work for you.  Music?  Well maybe a little, what with auto-tune and such, but if you want to perform live, you’d better know what you are doing.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  (Pun intended.)

My conclusion?  People aren’t going to change.  Photography can’t be about the recognition (especially on social media), and luckily I love doing it enough that it isn’t.  My goal is to eventually show my photos professionally, whether in a gallery, magazine or even a website, but until then?  When someone sees a photo I took and tells me I must have a good camera, I’ll just smile and say, “Yes, yes I do.”

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Genocide?

I keep seeing photos protesting the Israeli/Gaza war in which a swastika is imposed on the Israeli flag.   A few days ago a Facebook “friend” used the word genocide when referring to the Israeli attacks in Gaza.

And I got to thinking about that.

Let’s say that it’s true; that Israel is attempting to carry out Nazi-like genocide against the Palestinian people.

If that is the case, they really suck at it.

What country whose aim is genocide agrees to pull out of Gaza leaving a billion dollar horticultural business behind with plans to train the Palestinians how to run it?  (Hamas destroyed it after Israel left, but that is another story.)  What country bent on genocide forcibly removes around 1700 Jewish settler families from Gaza in advance of the aforementioned 2005/06 pullout?

If Israel wants to wipe out all the Palestinians, maybe they should stop sending those text messages and making those phone calls to warn civilians about imminent shelling.  (We can debate the effectiveness of such measures, but there is no doubt they are taken.)  Maybe they should stop sending in trucks with food and water and medical supplies.  Maybe they should not have set up a border hospital to attempt to help Palestinian civilians injured in the shelling.  ( Hamas often keeps the civilians from reaching that hospital… – another story.)   Are these measure inadequate?  Again, we can debate, but they are most certainly not the moves of a genocidal campaign.

In fact, if Israel’s intent is genocide, maybe they should pay closer attention to the methods of Syria’s Assad against the Sunni Muslim population who oppose him.   Assad’s reprisals against those who want to overthrow him have meant the deaths of over 51,000 civilians in the last three years, and over 150,000 total deaths.   But wait, no one (at least not recently) has talked much about that in terms of an attempt at genocide; Genocidewatch.org had an article in April of 2013, but nothing since.

I guess when it’s Muslim against Muslim, genocide doesn’t count.   Or nobody really cares.

The world would be such a better place if we could all just get along.   There is no such thing as a good war, or acceptable numbers for civilian deaths.   There is, however, a difference between inevitable casualties of war (or that awful phrase “collateral damage”), and genocide.

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Some of you have expressed privately that you’d rather I stick to the lighter subjects here, and I will get back to them –  photography and travel and such – but as Joshua’s entire family lives in Israel I feel compelled to respond to continual inaccurate and biased comments.   Thanks for hanging in there with me!

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Time to lay aside the blame and work for peace

When things go wrong, Joshua has a saying.  ”You can blame, or you can learn.”

Most of the world seems hell bent on blaming Israel for what is going on in Gaza.  All perspective seems to be lost, and attempts to broach the subject with any kind of equanimity are ignored or ridiculed.  (But if you’d like to read a level-headed article about the situation, Nicholas Kristoff’s piece in the Times yesterday can’t be beat.)

It is exhausting and unproductive and contributes to a destructive cycle.  The righteous indignation has reached a level several decibels above shrill.   It’s the kind of thing that can destroy friendships.

And honestly, I’d rather not.

So rather than blame, how about we learn?   There are after all a lot of groups, a lot of people on both sides, working to build bridges between Palestinians and Israelis.  How about we focus on them for a change, and stop trying to win at the game of “who is more to blame”?

Following are a list of links to articles or websites of people working toward a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.  They range from artists like David Broza to a grieving but hopeful Palestinian father.   They include groups of every day people who have realized that the only way to stop the violence is to get to know each other – to walk a mile in the other’s shoes.

These are just a few examples.  There are many more, if anyone would care to look.  Next time you feel the urge to go on Facebook and post about the awful Israelis and their killing of innocents, or that Hamas has brought this on its own people and has only themselves to blame… don’t.   Instead, how about donating your time and energy to an organization that is working with both Palestinians and Israelis to create an environment where peace can thrive?

One where blame is set aside in favor of learning

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The cancerous state of politics

Maybe it has always been this way.

Maybe political parties have always used fear tactics and negative reinforcement to demonize anyone who disagrees with them.  Maybe politics has always been cancerous and rotten.

Maybe.

But just because something has always been rotten, does that mean we should continue to make it part of our daily diet?   Shouldn’t we the people, at some point, refuse?   If it is making us sick and diseased, why do we continue to partake, participate and then complain about the fact that our system is still so unhealthy?

We are like a terminally ill lung cancer patient who has crazy doctors prescribing cigarettes as treatment; we know it’s wrong, but we still smoke those six packs of cigarettes a day and then complain that the doctors don’t know what they are doing.

I am a registered Democrat.  I vote mostly on social issues.   For the past 8-10 years, I’ve received regular emails from the DCCC – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.   Usually I don’t read them, but in the last 10 months or so the headlines really started to bother me.  At first I just continued to delete them, but then I decided to keep some in a draft message so that I could refer to them when I finally sat down to write this post.

Here is a sampling of headlines from messages I have received in the last month or two:

  • “Heartbreaking Setback”
  • “Disaster!”
  • “HUGE Mistake”
  • “Sadly”
  • “Amy, stick it to Boehner”
  • “All hope is lost”
  • “Devastating losses”
  • “DOOMED”
  • “Boehner blindsided”
  • “Boehner humiliated”
  • “President Obama just RIPPED speaker Boehner to shreds (it was AMAZING).

Notice anything?

Seriously, is this what people want from their congressional committee?  It sounds like the world is about to end, and I’m sure that is exactly the intent.

As of today I am unsubscribing.  They can take their bile elsewhere.

Republican/Tea Party friends (yes, I have some), is it the same on your side of the aisle?  Do you get bombarded with negative emails lamenting your losses and bragging about your ‘victories’ using vernacular more commonly seen in books about high school cliques?

Why do we allow it?  Why have we become a nation where anyone who doesn’t agree with us is the enemy?

I wonder what would happen if we stopped putting up with it.  If we really, truly, used our voting power for change and, since our country does not have a “no confidence” choice on the ballot (and oh how I wish we did), we either wrote it in or refused to vote at all.   What would happen if 100% of the citizenry voted no confidence by not voting at all?   Would the electoral college still cast their ballots?

Something needs to change, and no matter what we say it is up to us.  We like to complain about those packs of cigarettes our doctors keep handing us, but we keep on smoking them, so is it any wonder the cancer is getting worse?

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Just tryin’ to get us some peace

Once again, the bombs are flying over Israel and Gaza.

On Facebook and Twitter, I see posts from friends weighing in.  Some feel Israel is to blame because of the living conditions and strong restrictions placed on the Palestinian territories.  Others are on the side of Israel, because what country would not defend itself when repeatedly provoked?

Mostly I stay out of these conversations.  They are designed to become inflammatory and no one has ever changed their position on an issue because of a FB conversation.  (Or if they have, I haven’t heard about it.)

This particular situation strikes quite close to home, since Joshua is Israeli and all of his family lives there – and have spent the better part of the last 3 or 4 days running to and from their bomb shelters and then listening as rockets scream overhead, hearing loud explosions as the Iron Domes try to do their jobs and destroy the missiles before they can hit the ground.

Before I get to the heart of the matter, I must tell you a short story.   Today we were walking at sunset on West 72nd St. and noticed at least 30 taxis parked along the street, all of them empty.   There is an Islamic Center on Riverside at 72nd, and Joshua guessed that the drivers were Muslim and therefore observing Ramadan, which required them to fast during the day.  As soon as the sun sets, they break the fast with a large meal, in this case, at the Islamic Center.   We saw one driver just parking his car and I went over and asked him what was going on, and he confirmed that the drivers were gathering to break their daily fast together.   We wished him a good meal and end to the fast, and he thanked us with a smile, his hand over his heart.    As we walked away, Joshua said, “99% of all Muslims in the world are gentle, kind people who just want to live their lives in peace.  Just like 99% of Jews and Israelis, and all people, really.   The people in Gaza don’t want to live every day with bombs falling around them; the people in Israel don’t either.”

This is important, because when anyone talks about what is going on in the current conflict, particularly on the Muslim side, we are talking about Hamas – an extremist group willing to sacrifice civilians to further their misguided cause.   We are not talking about all Muslims.   Any extreme acts on either side – the killing of the three Jewish teenagers a few weeks ago and the killing of the Palestinian boy last week – go against the beliefs and basic tenets of the religions their perpetrators supposedly represent.

That said, the bottom line is that the Israelis would make peace.  Hamas and other extremist groups operating in the Palestinian territory and elsewhere will not.    This video by Dennis Prager spells it out pretty clearly.  Mr. Prager and I would probably disagree on a lot of things when it comes to domestic U.S. issues, but on this we agree.

I do not say that Israel and its military forces have never made mistakes – there is certainly enough blame to go around when it comes to the last 60+ years of almost daily conflict and antagonism between the two sides.   But the bottom line?  It could all have been avoided if the two state solution had been accepted by both sides way back in 1947.   The Jews accepted it.  The Arabs did not.

And here we are.

Posted in Learning, Life Learning, Safety | Tagged | 3 Comments

When you don’t have a real reason, just play the safety card

Last week my daughter and her friend met for lunch and then went to do some shopping at our local Goodwill store.   They have been regular and loyal customers of this store since it opened well over a year ago, often going in after their dance class, which takes place just up the block.   I am rarely in the store with them.

Imagine my surprise, then, to receive a phone call from my daughter at about 2:30 in the afternoon last Wednesday (a phone call!  Usually she just texts) relating that she and her friend were told that they have to be 18 years old to shop in Goodwill without a parent.

Umm, come again?

Apparently the girls were at the checkout, money in hand, when the store manager asked how old they were.   When they said 14, she told them they are not allowed to be in the store without a parent, would not let them complete the purchase and told them to leave.

I told my daughter to stay where she was – I would be right there.   But first I went on to the Goodwill corporate website to see if in fact there is anything in writing about needing to be 18 years old to shop on your own at Goodwill.   Unsurprisingly there was nothing; there was, however, a lot of information about how to apply for a job at Goodwill if you are 16 years or older.

Interesting.

About 20 minutes later we walked back in the store and I asked the girls who they spoke to.  They didn’t see her, so I approached one of the employees and asked if she was the manager.  She said she was “a” manager, so I told her what had happened.  She got a confused look on her face and said, “I’ve never heard that before.  I really apologize. Please tell them they can come in and shop here any time.”   She asked the girls who they’d spoken to and they tried to describe her.   Then they again picked up the items they had tried to purchase earlier and we headed to the checkout.

While paying my daughter said, “There she is,” as a woman came down the stairs from the upper floor.   The woman I’d spoken to looked up and said, “Oh, that’s my manager.”    As she approached the counter, the store manager saw me and the girls and said “Oh I’m so glad they brought you in. I explained to them you have to be 18 to shop here alone.”

From that point on, our conversation went something like this:

Me:  ”Where exactly does it say that you have to be 18 to shop solo at Goodwill?  I checked the corporate site and couldn’t find anything.”

Her:  ”Well you know sometimes kids comes in and they’ve taken money from their parents without asking and they don’t really have permission to be shopping.”

Me:  ”That’s a problem between the parent and child.  It’s not your problem.”

Her:  ”Well but that’s why we have the rule.”

Me:  ”Really?  I find that a little hard to believe, since Goodwill hires kids at the age of 16.   It would be weird if they hired kids as employees who couldn’t shop in the store.”

Her:  ”Well, but they (pointing to the girls) aren’t even 16.”

Me:  ”That’s beside the point.  The point is that I don’t think there is a rule about needing to be 18 to shop at Goodwill.”

Here she paused and looked uncomfortable.

Her:  ”But it’s a school day.”

Me:  ”Well they are homeschooled, but in any case, so what?  It’s not your job to police whether or not kids are in school.  If some kid comes in here and buys a shirt when they are supposed to be in school, the cops aren’t going to show up and arrest you.”

Clearly she was just making things up and at this point was at something of a loss, until….

Her:  ”Well, you know, we just want to keep everyone safe.”

Ahhh, there it is.  The safety card.   The defense of all inane regulations and rules with no substance.   SAFETY.   At this point I’m sure she expected me to say, “Oh well then, if it’s to keep them safe, of course it’s ok.”

I must have looked dumbfounded, because she then turned to my daughter and said, “You know, sweetie, we just need to be sure you are safe.”

Safe from what, exactly?  Is it really so dangerous to shop at Goodwill on your own?  It’s not like they are selling drugs, guns or alcohol.   I guess those used t-shirts carry a wallop when one is an unsuspecting minor.

Before I could recover my wits she went on.

Her:  ”But now that you’ve been in and said it’s ok, they are welcome to shop here whenever they want.”

Gee, thanks for letting them continue to do what they’ve been doing since the store opened.  I feel so much better now.  Also, since one of the girls is not my daughter, I guess I could walk in with any kid who wants to shop there and tell the manager it’s ok.   Layer upon layer of ridiculousness.

Goodwill corporate will be receiving a letter from me about this, as will the Twitter-verse (well, not a letter, but a strongly worded 140 character rebuke).   Later I told Ben the story and when I said, “I mean, what do they need to be kept safe from at Goodwill?!”  he responded, “Mama, don’t you know about the invisible flying Goodwill dragon that eats kids shopping there without their parents?”

Hey, it’s as good an answer as any!

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Talking to strangers

I have never understood parents who tell their kids not to talk to strangers.  Since 99.9% of the people you will encounter in life are strangers, this seems like really bad advice.   Rather than teaching kids to fear strangers, we would be better served to help them learn how to talk to strangers, and how to trust their instincts when it comes to any situation.   The wise Will Rogers once said, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”   Or if you prefer, even the Bible admonishes, in the book of Hebrews, to “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Some of my best days are those that contain conversations with strangers, even when those strangers seem, on the surface, like people you might want to avoid.

Today was the perfect example.

Maya and I went to pick up her birthday cake (her birthday is tomorrow) from the Cupcake Cafe which is located on 9th Avenue next to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  Not a neighborhood in which I would choose to spend a lazy afternoon, but that is what happened today, since the cake was not ready when we arrived.   I had my camera, so we walked around taking photos, stopped for coffee and were making our way back down 9th Avenue when I briefly caught the eye of one of the guys who loiter in the area.  He smelled sharply of alcohol and was talking loudly to a friend. As Maya and I passed, they began to amble up the block behind us.  At the next corner, as we waited for the light,  they approached us and asked what I was photographing.   I smiled and said whatever struck my fancy.   And we proceeded to have a friendly conversation.  They thought we were from out of town (walking with a camera near 42nd St. usually brands you a tourist) so I told them that we live in the city and were just here to pick up a cake.  A birthday cake.  They then addressed Maya, asking if it was her birthday cake -she said it was – and how old would she be – she told them.   Eventually I took photos of one of them, at his behest, and then we parted ways as they wished us a good day and Maya a Happy Birthday.

Did I hesitate when these two men, who didn’t look (or smell) to be the best of sorts, started following us and then spoke to me?  Honestly, yes I did, but just for a second.  I decided that a respectful and friendly response would do no harm, and if my gut told me something was up, we could walk in the direction of the two or three police cruisers parked just over a block away outside the bus station.

Maya followed my lead and afterward we agreed that if we had seemed fearful or defensive, we might have gotten a different response from those two men.  Instead we wound up having a pleasant encounter and got a couple of good photos to boot.

I always tell my kids to trust their instincts, and to never let appearances alone sway them.  Most of the time strangers are not to be feared.  Besides, if you never talk to any, how will you learn to know the difference?

A stranger - but no danger

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More than a snapshot

Yesterday I read an article that stated that photography is often not seen as art, because everyone thinks they can do it.   The easily affordable plethora of high quality digital cameras only reinforces this view.   After my recent walks on the High Line, I would have to agree.  Every second person is shooting photos with a digital camera.

So what makes one photo stand out above another, beyond just our personal taste?

Composition – including lighting, exposure, color or contrast –  is of course a major factor, as is story.

My personal goal in posting a photo of the day every day is to get farther away from snapshots and closer to art; to compose my photos and let them tell a story, relying as little on photo-editing software as possible.  (If I had space for one, I’d be a darkroom devotee even in this age of digital.)

Not every day is a success, but as Maya’s former art teacher always said, “Practice makes progress.”

One of my favorites so far is this one, titled “Dancers”:

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Little wonders

Many of the wonders in New York City are hard to miss – Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, the Intrepid, the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower.

Others go virtually unnoticed unless you know where to look.

For the past two weeks I’ve been walking down a block on the West Side that is not usually part of my routine, and one day I happened to glance down as I was going by one of the buildings – a very normal looking apartment building – and saw dozens of violins and what looked like a work bench.

Today I went back and worked up the courage to ring the buzzer of “David Segal Violins”.   David himself opened the door and I stammered through an awkward explanation of how I’d seen the violins through the window.  No, I don’t play and am not in the market to buy…. I just looked in and thought they were beautiful.

And with that I was invited into the workroom.  The outer room is where the sale of  violins happens, and they had two customers trying out different instruments – holding them, playing them, seeing how they responded; how they felt.  (Honestly it reminded me of the scene in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone  when he goes to Ollivanders to get his wand – the violin picks the musician like the wand picks the wizard, it seems.)

The workroom, though, is where the real magic happens.  Violins and violas were everywhere, and the workbench was covered in tools and cloths and tiny brushes which could restore a broken instrument and give it new life.

Today the shop and its’ owner were busy, so he said he could not answer my questions, but told me I was welcome to take as many photos as I liked and also to come back on another day when he had more time to talk.   As I stood there marveling, I heard his wife, who was with a customer in the other room, mention the price of a Stradivarius (7 million).   I gasped, and David smiled and said, “You’re standing right in front of a Stradivarius, but I won’t tell you which one it is.”

One of these is a Stradivarius

Each of these instruments is crafted by hand, restored and repaired by hand – no computer can polish the wood or repair the bridge or string each piece so that it tunes to perfection.  Only the hands of an artisan can do that.   Which is why David Segal’s shop is a wonder.

One I’m so glad I didn’t miss.

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Candid photos

I love candid photos of people but have never thought myself very good at taking them.  Posed shots of my kids?  Sure, that I can do, but photographing random people has always been a challenge.

In the first month of the photo of the day project (I am now in the middle of month three) I had one great candid photo – the little boy in Heckscher Playground.   This month I’ve been challenging myself to feature people in more and more of my daily pics.   Here are some of the results:

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