Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on Fatherhood

I don't want this blog to be about parenthood, but that is consuming my life at the moment. There is no escape. I do however use my son as a subject for photography, so I will continue to pepper my posts with those images and stay within the spirit of this blog.

I didn't have too many thoughts about fatherhood or theories on raising children before my son was born. In fact, I didn't even read the "Baby Book." I think it may have had something to do with the movie Knocked Up. I really didn't like it when Katherine Heigl freaked out on Seth Rogan for not reading the book. As if reading that book qualifies someone to be a good parent. Not the best reason, I know. So, I basically didn't know what to expect while my wife was expecting.

However, I couldn't get Dave Chappelle's take on having a son out of my head.  During one of his better standup bits, Chappelle talks about how moved he was when his son brought home a macaroni necklace he "made for Daddy." Dave was really touched, sat his son down on his knee and commented, "You used to live in my balls! And now you're making me a macaroni necklace?!" The humor of this sentiment aside, it really is mind-blowing. While I hadn't thought too much about being a dad, I really wanted my own "Dave Chappelle" moment. And I still look forward to having them.

I can't believe it has been one whole month since my son was born. I can't believe I have a son. In one furious second, I went from barely being responsible for myself to being responsible for another human being. That is just as scary as it sounds, but like they say, high risk-high reward.

I sometimes imagine what the younger version of me would think of all that is happening right now. These thoughts seem to surface the most during diaper changes. The 23 year old me might say something like, "Wow. You are cleaning your kid's crap? That kid should be cleaning your crap. Let's ditch the diaper and hit up the club, old man!" The new Dad version of me thinks, "Wow. I am cleaning my kid's crap. This is so awesome." Notice there is no exclamation point at the end of that statement. I am human after all. Having said that, I am enjoying things about fatherhood that I imagined I would pretty much hate including, yes, the dreaded dirty diapers. To clarify, it's not the process I enjoy, rather the end result of a cleaner and happier baby.

After marriage, parenthood is about the most unnatural thing in the world. As human beings, I believe we are wired to act in our self-interest. It's a survival thing. Caring for a baby goes against every instinct designed to preserve life. It might not make much of a difference for me to fall asleep in the wee hours while feeding my kid here in suburbia, but if I was a caveman in the woods, that momentary dozing could cost me my life. According to the principles of evolution, bad parents who neglect their children should make up a larger population of the gene pool. They had more energy and were more alert, key factors to survival. Despite these thoughts, when my son flashes me a little smile in the morning, it makes up for everything and my exhaustion goes away. Just kidding. It's just a temporary high, and then I go right back to being tired.

I have enjoyed my time at home with my son, and I feel blessed to have been able to spend every single day of the past month with him. I thought it would drive me crazy, but I am finding that I actually a bit sad to head back to work. After two years of tired trekking, I feel as if I have reached an oasis in the middle of the desert. I have imagined this day for a while, but it now seems bittersweet. The words of Lance Armstrong have stuck with me and encouraged me during the last leg of my journey:

"What you learn in survivorship is that after all the shouting is done, after the desperation and crisis is over, after you have accepted the fact of your illness and celebrated the return of your health, the old routines and habits, like shaving in the morning with a purpose, a job to go to, and a wife to love and a child to raise, these are the threads that tie your days together and that give them the pattern deserving of the term "a life.""

Life is good.


Observing my nephew meet his cousin for the first time was kind of interesting. I think they hit it off and will be good friends. I feel like it wasn't all that long ago since my brother and I used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood and play wiffleball in front of the house. Those were the days. A simpler time, when video games only had two buttons, gas was under a dollar...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the Road

[Sail Away]

One of the reasons I got back into photography was because of my love of travel. Exploring the world stirred an internal desire to document my journeys. I only wish I could go back and photograph some of my old trips. I surely would have done a much better job, especially on my humanitarian aid trips to the most isolated country on earth.

The problem with having better gear and full control over your equipment is that you can essentially make something look exactly the way you want it, even if it doesn't really look that way. And that is before bringing something into Photoshop or Lightroom.

I believe photography is about capturing reality. Now what that reality actually looks like is subjective to each individual, so perhaps photography is not about reality at all, just the shaky perception of it.

Colors can be manipulated. Faces and bodies can be shaped to appear more pleasing. Done recklessly, I think this wanton editing process can dishonor our subjects and on a macro level, dishonors the creator of our world. I'll be the first to admit the last bit about disrespecting God is a bit much, but you probably understand what I am getting at.

When a human being has been weaned off the sleep their body has come to crave and require slowly over the course of a month, there are bound to be random thoughts and musings racing through the mind.

I suppose the point of all this is that as I continue to journey onward, I hope not to forget the simple beauty of photography. The joy felt by the first person to operate a pinhole camera in 4th-5th century BC and by countless others throughout history lives on in me. For but a brief moment, we are able to hold onto a moment in time of our choosing. The resulting image is a temporary revolt against the fleeting nature of life. It is however, a battle we are destined to lose. All we build is sure to crumble one day. All traces of who we are will one day cease to exist. The unwavering tides will eventually close in, but for a few moments, life can be paused and memories invoked. It is in those times our imaginations become greater than reality. Souls can be stirred and hearts inspired. And we march on to the end, the certainty of all certainties.

Just for fun, can you tell me which of the two photos was taken with a Point-and-Shoot as opposed to a DSLR?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Real and Reality

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) is one of my favorite photographers. It only helps that she was born in NJ. Whether you recognize her name or not, you have most likely seen her work. And it is probably her most iconic photograph "Migrant Worker." Ms. Lange was a talented photojournalist whose most widely circulated pieces are images documenting the Great Depression.

I love Lange's work, and her approach to photojournalism is something that challenges me every time I pick up my camera. Rules might exist to be broken, but Lange had three rules she always adhered to: "Whatever I photograph, I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second: a sense of place. Whatever I photograph, I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third: a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present."

It takes an enormous amount of patience and time to wait for and capture timeless real images, but I believe the amount of satisfaction one receives from such an image is at least tenfold. Lange's thoughtful approach to photography and her respect for subjects is evident in her account of taking the above photograph in 1960:

"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it."

It is also mildly amusing that despite her purist approach to photography, Lange was not opposed to a little old school Photoshop work. Here is the original unedited version of "Migrant Worker."

While the original is still a great photograph, it was definitely helpful to remove the mother's thumb from the post and to add a little more contrast to the image. If you go back to the original image, you'll notice traces of the thumb on the post. You probably didn't notice before because the inherent impact the image has. Your eyes are naturally drawn to the mother's eyes.

If the mother of American photojournalism embraced a little dodge and burn, there's no reason why photographers shouldn't engage in a little image clean-up from time to time.

I wonder what Dorothea Lange would think about hobbyist photographers cheating their clients while shooting in auto and Costco offering gallery wraps. It's amazing how much the world of photography has changed over the years. One thing that will never change is that the best continue to hone their craft and invest in themselves. The rest just fade away like thumbs in Dorothea Lange's photograph.

My most recent pieces of photojournalism(more like faux-journalism):

The social issues of our day are going to have to wait. Life sort of revolves around this little guy for now. But I am getting very excited about working on some new projects. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

the art of making a mix

I should probably be sleeping, but my mind and body will not allow me to do so. Life keeps throwing punches, and I keep absorbing the blows. I can't lie, I wish the bell would ring so I could take a little break. You might have to cut me.

The little guy provides a nice outlet for restless energy, and tonight instead of sleeping I decided to make a little mix for Lex. If it is structure that I crave in my life, a human being I am partly responsible for that requires attention every three hours certainly qualifies. I don't know if I can even really say that, because I may or may not be getting up every time I am supposed to. My mother-in-law has been spoiling me that way, but I do make a sincere effort to get up when I am called. It's been a blast thus far, and I hardly remember what life was like before my little buddy came into the picture. I am probably having more fun than my son is though.

Even if you don't have pants on, the presence of a tie makes this outfit all business.

The prospect of influencing and molding a human being is a frightening prospect. However, some aspects of this process are a little less daunting. For example, I am very eager to introduce Lex to music. I can't feed him solids yet, so I had to settle for a collection of lullaby-ish songs. Here are the tracks on my newborn mix:

Fly Me Away - Annie Little
Three Best Friends - Zach Galifianakis
Rainbow Connection - Jason Mraz
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - Jewel
Island Baby - Korean Lullaby
From the Morning - Nick Drake
Sweet Child O' Mine (Lullaby Version) - Guns N' Roses
Brahm's Lullaby - Celine Dion
1234 - Feist
Forever Young - Bob Dylan
Growing Pains Theme Song
Alphabet Song - Ray Charles
Home on the Range - Tori Amos
Lullaby - Billy Joel
Beautiful Boy - John Lennon
Jesus Touch My Heart - Kids Acappella
Rock-A-Bye Baby
Baby Beluga
Danny Boy - Paul Robeson
Fields of Gold - Eva Cassidy (Sting cover)
Somewhere Over the Rainbow & What a Wonderful World - Brother Iz
Stand By Me - Tracy Chapman
Such Great Heights - Iron and Wine (Postal Service cover)
I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today - Guster
The Way I Am - Ingrid Michaelson
The Chop - Greg Schiano

Anything you would add?

Once I get my mind set on doing something, I have this bad habit of not being able to stop until it is finished. That is the only explanation I have for my decision to pass on much needed sleep. Before my kid was born the things I looked forward to the most were photographing him and introducing him to music, so I am a bit amped up at the moment despite my exhaustion. That much anticipated journey is only beginning, and I am glad we are getting started early.

I have always loved music, and I am excited to share that passion with my son. He may or may not take to my musical preferences, and that is alright too. I just want to make sure he has good options available to him. 

I have been honing the art of making a good mix since I was in junior high. My approach is pretty simple but also complex. I like to create a flow, a storyline of sorts. After all, you're trying to take the listener down a path, building up to peaks, throwing in little surprises, and adding bursts of creative flair. What good is that skill? Does it have any practical use in my life? Probably not since I am now married with a kid (ack), so chalk up one more useless ability on the stack of my useless abilities.

DJ Sammy S is out.