The Battle of Picacho Peak

The yearly Arizona Civil War reenactment at Picacho Peak offered an interesting opportunity to try to recreate the specific look of that time.  The Civil War wasn’t the first war to be photographed- that was the Crimean War- but it was the first war Americans ever saw images from.  In particular the work of Matthew Brady’s company of photographers is so iconic it’s the first thing people think of when the Civil War is brought up as a topic of conversation.

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I went with my 4×5 Graphlex Field Camera and 14 sheets of film.  I also took my son Patrick, who opened up one of the film holders before I got any shots at all.  In February, I was at another Civil War event at Pioneer Village north of Phoenix, and the attendance there was low enough that I figured I’d have the actors and location pretty open to shoot in.  Not so.  There were thousands of people at the Picacho Peak event, and anyone who has ever tried to get authentic period shots when you have so many other people milling about knows that it ain’t easy.

ImageQuite a few of these spectators were photographers themselves, from DSLRs to medium format to an interesting DIY combo of “Frankensteined” vintage lenses on a mirrorless Sony camera.  The 4×5 was slower than usual due to issues in keeping my son calm and happy, but it worked out in several ways:

  1. Forcing me to plan out shots, rather than “spray shooting” and hoping to sort them out later
  2. Forcing me to shoot in a framing style similar to the real Civil War photos
  3. Getting me a lot of attention from actors, kids, other photographers.  Nothing like a weird camera to help introverts like myself talk to people.

ImageWe arrived back at our house in Chandler around 4 pm, developed the film by 6 pm, scanned the 11 good images by the next day, and I finished them off using a combination of texture overlays, Nik software’s Tone Mapping in HDR Pro and Silver EFX Pro, and Adobe Lightroom. ImageImage

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The Other Stuff I Make Pt. 2

In a previous post I talked about one of the non-photographic creative outlets I have in the music I create as Artificial Human. My other, most recent creative love is ceramic sculpture. Music and sculpture utilize vastly different creative muscles from photography than, say, drawing, painting, video or graphics.

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Walter White of Breaking Bad

I started appreciating and collecting pottery when I was in ASU’s American Indian studies program. Pottery/ ceramics are quite big around Arizona and New Mexico because the arid climate lends itself to drying out pieces- in England, it may take a week for something to dry out and be fire-ready whereas here it only takes a day.

Ceramics are awesome for many reasons:

  1. The work has an end. You can’t get more done than something being glazed and fired.
  2. Some pieces are utilitarian- bowls and mugs and vases etc.
  3. It isn’t something that can be digitized and pirated. If you want it, you have to make it yourself or buy it. And a lot of people are willing to spend money on ceramics.
  4. Clay is a tactile experience that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen.
  5. Clay is so easy to model and shape. It’s fascinating to see what you can do with something that starts as a ball of mud.
  6. There is a pretty low cost to be involved in ceramics. Even if you don’t have your own wheel or kiln, the art studios I work at in Chandler and Mesa both offer affordable “work at your own pace” classes where you have full access to the facilities.

Someday I want to create some installation featuring photography, music and ceramics. Of the three I am definitely the least knowledgeable of ceramics, but that’s part of what makes it so exciting to me. With so much to learn, every new piece is a step forward.

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Love For The Lightroom

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A 2 minute Adobe Lightroom edit of an orangutan I shot at the Phoenix Zoo.

I occasionally teach a Lightroom workshop and it’s easy to get excited about because Adobe Lightroom is both the easiest and best editing program for raw images.

Non-destructive editing means my bad taste from last year hasn’t trashed photos I want to use this year.

Sliders in the develop module mean that I can experiment with extremes.

Creating my own presets mean I can have keep a consistent stylistic look to my images.

Batch editing means I can edit as many images at once as I need to, or even during the import phase.  Stuff that took me days in the past now takes minutes.  Same with mass exporting of images for prints, web posts, books, pdf, etc.

If bigamy and marriage between a consenting adult and computer program were legal, I’d make Lightroom my second wife.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Vendors

“Scream Queens” opens up next week and there were a couple small businesses involved that are worth mentioning.

Blue Cube Printing is a service in Portland that I have do all my printing.  Why use a service in Portland?  Because

A. I can’t stand printing myself.  Ink and paper cost a fortune and maintaining a good printer is difficult.  If a business prints for you, they can do it better, cheaper, and they have to give you a decent product.

B. Blue Cube is fast, prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, and is cheaper than local alternatives.

I was lucky to get my stuff printed during one of Blue Cube’s sales.  Each of my 20×30″ images was $9.99.  Compare that to $20, $30 at other places.

The other business is Image 3D.  They create custom Viewmaster reels, starting around $25 (less if you just want a reel and no Viewmaster).  As a marketing tool it’s awesome- no one can resist picking it up, flipping through it, oooohhing and ahhhhhing.

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my first custom viewmaster real, a sample of portfolio fashion work done in a pseudo-color wheel.

My aesthetic has a lot to do with being a manchild, so having toys involved in the show experience is crucial.

Influences: Adrian Younge

Adrian Younge is one of those artists whose work I’d admired and enjoyed for a few years, but I wasn’t aware of anything about the creative mind behind the work.  Younge is a musician, producer, dj and composer- all arrows pointing the same direction, but it helps to clarify which hats he wears.  He was responsible for the amazingly period perfect soundtrack to 2009’s Black Dynamite.  I remember watching that movie maybe 10 times in a row.  Recently he released two albums, one a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, and “Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics,” a mix of Ennio Morricone sounds with classic soul.


In a previous post I mentioned my fondness for getting period work correct- that is, something referring to the 70s should actually look and feel authentic to its period.  Younge is someone with a similar thought process and he elaborated on it in a recent episode of Fresh Air.  All the gear in his studio is vintage and his production and mixing processes are similar to the way things were done in the 60s and 70s.

In his interview with Terry Gross, he pulled no punches when discussing the music of modern times, saying there’s no song composition to modern hip hop, that the clean compressed studio sound of 2013 didn’t speak to him at all.  Terry pointed out he was an example of what the music world ideally would want of someone who utilized sampling- Younge would take notice of the original sampled sounds and seek out their originators, as opposed to merely plundering bits and bobs and pretending he created everything.

Whenever I find a creative mind that thinks like Adrian Younge- who sets the mood via equal parts unique technical production and a strong concept behind the work- I feel validated in the kind of stuff I create that strives for those same qualities.  You aren’t going to hear “Adrian Younge featuring Britney Spears, remix featuring Kid Cudi and Snoop Dogg” but you will hear an artist devoted to an aesthetic that is universally relatable as much as it is uniquely his own.

David Miller Phoneographyworks

My mother brain dead in her last moments.  I wouldn't have brought up all my photo gear for this image but I had my phone with me and wanted to show my sister in Arizona what to expect.
My mother brain dead in her last moments. I wouldn’t have brought up all my photo gear for this image but I had my phone with me and wanted to show my sister in Arizona what to expect.

When Instagram claimed rights to all photos shot using its processing/ sharing app, I deleted my account within seconds.  It didn’t matter that they backtracked on their new policy later that day, I decided that as a mere processing and sharing tool it wasn’t worth the hassle.  I spend/ waste more than enough social networking time on Facebook, tumblr, model mayhem, soundcloud, and WordPress to have  another virtual mouth to feed.  It is way too much narcissism as is, and so far only one of those sites (Facebook) gives me any regular work.  Not to mention there are many other photo filter apps out there that don’t exaggerate their importance.

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shot inside an antique store

Now, on my phone home screen, I have a “picture frame” containing my instagrammed photos of my children.  They are quite lovely but the gallery no longer grows.  In the last two months, I made the concious choice to fall back in love with my ancient (3 years old) Nikon D700, and forced myself to do all the personal photos with it rather than leaving it up to the phone to fill that gap.  I was better with this other device that weighed more, required more thought to use correctly, and took significantly more time to process in the computer, but in the end the effort seems to pay off.

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Patrick dressing up at the grocery store.

At this point, some might say “why don’t you just photography with all the devices at your disposal?”  For myself, I need some parameters to my shooting.  I am not the kind of person always shooting, capturing every boring moment of my day.  I can’t convince myself a phone shot is good enough when I could have done it better with the D700 or view camera, but it is so easy to convince oneself when they rely on the phone camera at all times.

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I have no doubt that there are phoneographers making great work, many of whom wouldn’t be doing any photography at all if not for the convenience and freedom allowed by apps.  And there are definitely many photos that simply cannot be shot by the average person without their phone- shots in stores, at concerts, inside small objects, etc.  But the psychology of shooting is greatly affected by what tool the photographer uses, and settling for convenience is a poor motivation for making art the best you can.

March/ April schedule

For anyone interested, I have a number of events and classes scheduled over the next month:

March 27th, 28th and 30th I am teaching a 3 day Adobe Lightroom workshop at Art Intersection in Gilbert

April 5th is the opening of “Scream Queens” at MonOrchid in Phoenix.

April 6th and 7th I’ll be in LA with my family, attending a Clint Mansell performance and visiting Hive Gallery.

April 9th and 11th start a new round of classes I teach for City of Tempe, “DSLR Basics” and “Creative Mobileography”

April 12th is the Mesa Art Walk where I’ll have tons of new ceramics and photos on sale

April 13th starts a new round of classes I teach at Mesa Arts Center, “Cartooning” and “Pastels”

April 19th is the Chandler Art Walk where I’ll have tons of new ceramics and photos on sale

April 24th starts a new round of the Beginning Photography class at Tumbleweed in Chandler

April 26th in conjunction with my “Scream Queens” show, the Phoenix Film Bar is showing a collection of B-movie trailers

Got a few shoots lurking in their as well, and a trip to Omaha pending decent weather.  I’m just happy to be busy!