Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Baby Portraiture & More Thoughts on Fatherhood

My son has been the perfect guinea pig for honing my baby/child photography technique. Overall, photography-wise there is very little that is different from a standard shoot. You still look for light. You use it or manipulate it to your liking. Composition is composition. I've been trained to have my subjects wear solid colors, but this time, I just felt like breaking the rules a little bit.

The one main obvious and significant difference is that a baby doesn't take direction very well. Posing is not an option. However, you can set a kid up to eventually find his/her own pose. I like to call my approach DCP, which stands for "documentary child portraiture." I kid. I kid. However, for all the photos in this set, I did not pose my son, nor was he able to follow my instructions very well. I am sure any child photographer reading this would have known from the start that it is pretty much impossible to pose a child so young. Unless you are one of those people who can communicate with dolphins, I think this is pretty much a normal phenomenon.

I knew the light in this location was exactly what I was looking for, and I was relatively happy with the background. That really opened things up so that I could focus on getting my son to do what I wanted, namely what he wanted to do. There are only a few ways you can really set up a baby who cannot sit up on their own, most of which involve lying on their stomachs or propped up on pillows. I would not recommend laying a baby on their back, because that usually will result in less than flattering images.

Working off those base positions, I created an optimal environment for my son to break out into his own poses. Later on, I introduced some props. I was ready to capture moments as they happened, with some occasional encouragement. I used to laugh when photographers would say they knew their equipment well enough that they didn't have to look through the viewfinder, but I found myself doing just that at a few points during this shoot.

Traditionally, I haven't enjoyed child photography, but seeing my son's personality come through during the shoot and in these photos has definitely changed my mind. I have come to enjoy the unique challenge that baby photography presents.

Poor little guy has been through his share of sessions already, including a particularly lengthy HD video project. But my shoots don't last more than 10-15 minutes. I get what I want quickly and that is that. Minimal stress on the child and optimal use of my time. Win-win.

I look at my son and wonder what kind of world he will grow up in. There is no question that he will be a little more soft, since he will not be growing up in New Jersey but Northern Virginia. Since my parents were immigrants to the US, there were many things they didn't quite understand about my childhood or American society at large. Technology and access to information also probably helps me make more educated and thoughtful choices than my parents were able to. By no fault of their own, I had to do quite a bit of figuring things out on my own. And I would have it no other way.

How will the world change in the next 20 years? How will America change? Every Asian kid on a playground in America has experienced some degree of teasing about their heritage. For the most part, I think it was just ignorance and a touch of maliciousness, and I write it off as a rite of passage for any immigrant. When I was in grade school, people asked me constantly if I was Chinese. I guess they got a little smarter (or a little less dumb, but still dumb), because by the time I was in high school the average American knew enough to ask me which Korea I was from. And today? I guess for the most part, it's pretty benign like the occasional manager at work who thinks I should be adept at IT because I am Asian. And sometimes you can only laugh, as I had to the time an older gentleman I worked with gave me a small sack of rice because he knew that I "would appreciate it." I just pray that none of these old troubled Vietnam vets loses it and goes on a killing spree, because I am pretty sure they won't be able to tell the difference between me and the Viet Cong, or any other Asian ethnicities for that matter.

I find myself going back and forth between wanting to give my son every edge in life that I wish I had and letting him figure things out all by himself. And I don't necessarily mean material comforts, though there is no question that he will also enjoy more of those things. And quite frankly, I don't know what the right answer is or if there is even such a thing as the right answer. It's a lonely world out there. It's a cold world. I really want my son to be able to navigate the unknown and do it well. Because realistically, there is no amount of preparation that will help you foresee every situation or handle every hurdle that is thrown your way. My son smiles his charming little smile, but flirting isn't going to open all the doors. Sure he will fail. I even hope my son fails from time to time- but that he gets right back up and gets going where he wants to go, where he is meant to go.

I feel privileged to see this little man grow up every single day. Hopes? Expectations? I wonder if there is room for my own hopes and dreams to be embodied in this little guy. Is he big enough to also carry the weight of my dreams? I only wish that my son will be able to do all that his little heart desires. Whatever his dreams may be, I hope that he will be able to pursue them and perhaps one day reach them. Perhaps it is selfish, but that is my dream.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

STOP! Grammar Time.

I cannot stop laughing at this animation, so I thought I would share.

Go Hammer! Go Hammer!
On a serious note, bad grammar is everywhere. And not just on Asian stationary. Maybe it is my experience in PR and editing or my inherent perfectionist nature, but I see grammar and spelling mistakes all over the place- even in published material. As a gesture of grammar goodwill, I've even sent correspondence to Coca-Cola and American Express about errors in their promotional material. Of course we all fall victim to errors in writing from time to time, but some people are serial offenders, wantonly and mercilessly tearing through prose like Godzilla on a miniature replica of Japan.

I've always been kind of a stickler on this. Even gave an old girlfriend a grammar book, because she really needed some guidance. I tried to be funny about it, but at some point, the poor writing just got to me. Yes, I acknowledge that I am probably a bit extreme, but I like to think I am running my own personal public service announcement on the dangers of bad grammar.

Just say no to bad grammar.

Keep America Beautiful. [Indian sheds a tear]

Friends don't let friends use bad grammar.

Take a bite out of bad grammar.

Only you can prevent bad grammar.

This is your brain on bad grammar.

Any questions?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eric LeGrand Believe Fund: My Pledge

2011 (Originally written as 2010. I am truly behind. Thanks GS Lady!) started a few months ago, but this has been on my mind for quite some time. I've been moving to get my act together and push forward on various initiatives (including my website), but I believe the effort and time it takes to create something of high quality is well worth the wait.

A football player from my alma mater was severely injured during a game last season, and the incident has been weighing heavily on my heart since then. The grit, determination, and heart of this young man has truly been remarkable as he rehabs his way from partial paralysis. Football may just be a game, but it is a game that mirrors life and has far reaching impact and implications beyond the playing field.

[Clip about Eric LeGrand and support from the NFL]

So with this post, I am officially pledging to donate $100 for every photography gig I book. And this is a commitment I am going to honor until there is no more Eric LeGrand Believe Fund.

So keep choppin' Eric, and thanks for being an inspiration. You are a warrior.

We all face varying degrees of hardship and adversity in our lives, and I hope to act with the class, humility, and heart that you have displayed in the face of my own personal struggles.

I bELieve.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

meditations in an emergency

on edge at the edge

As I grow older, I am finding that any preconceived notions of what is just and what is fair have no bearing on the unfolding of events in reality. The stakes rise, but the same arbitrary principles seem to govern the fine line between success and failure. As the stakes rise, so do the finality of outcomes. There are far fewer opportunities for redemption or second chances. One shot, one opportunity. If you miss it, you can take the bus back home.

There is a certain amount of calm that comes with being in the middle of a storm. Some of it manufactured, some of it a requisite of survival, and possibly some of it because life just can't be as bad as you might think it is. There is always a way it could be worse. And if you can't think of a possible scenario where that could be the case, that is a limitation of your imagination and not the overall depravity of reality. The only emergency is that there is no emergency.

What is it about hitting a crossroads that drives a man to the pen? I suppose it is a better outlet than the bottle. Sleepless nights and deep dark thoughts lead to deep frustration fueled meditation. Angst is good for the creative process. Jerry MaGuire had his mission statement, The Things We Think But Do Not Say. Unfortunately, there is nothing more overrated than the forgotten literature people clamor over when it is featured on a popular television show, especially as it relates to some level of personal crisis.  Case in point, you have Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency that made quite the splash on Mad Men. Having said that, there is something poignant about it.

Now I am quietly waiting for 
the catastrophe of my personality 
to seem beautiful again, 
and interesting, and modern. 

The country is grey and 
brown and white in trees, 
snows and skies of laughter 
always diminishing, less funny 
not just darker, not just grey. 

It may be the coldest day of 
the year, what does he think of 
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do, 
perhaps I am myself again.

[Meditations in an Emergency - Frank O'Hara]

As thoughts on life evolve, it becomes clear that there is a time to think, there is a time to act, and there ultimately is a time to move on. I believe in the Keep Choppin' mantra, but it might be time to start chopping another tree. And there is nothing inherently wrong with taking a break. In the words of an unknown warrior, "I am hurt but not slain. I'll lay me down and bleed a while. And then I'll rise up and fight again."