Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to Write a Poem

(published in the school's literary magazine, "Temper", as proof that poetry and photography are one and the same...)

How to Write a Poem

step one: the camera
you’re going to need one
some people can do without
but you’re no Mozart, dear
and those of us who aren’t child prodigies
had best conform
admit we’re human
and accept what we need while we still need it.

step two: shoot
placement is everything
once you realize where you’re going
the journey is half the journey
and the other half is getting lost
decide your subject
and look at it for a long, long time
know what it is before you define it.

step three: the negative
click click click rewind
roll the film carefully (use the silver reels, not the rusty ones)
in the pitch black
when you process timing is everything
as it hangs to dry take a deep breath
the negative is not your final result,
but leave it alone for a while.

step four: the darkroom
again, placement timing placement
wait for the amber light so you don’t ruin anything
use the right filter
expose to bulb accordingly
be patient while you wait for it to develop
if you rush it too much it won’t fix properly
and the second you take it into the light it will disappear

step five: tweak
one you have the overall gist of the photograph correct
it’s time to nitpick
decide what should be darker
what could do with more light
use your tools carefully and only on smaller areas
though no matter how carefully you burn or dodge
they’re different every time

step six: frame
no, no, no, you are not finished
maybe it looks lovely to you
maybe there is perfect texture, contrast, tone,
but (don’t groan) there is still more
now for presentation
maybe you’re “contemporary”, all strange angles
but there is nothing wrong with ninety degrees

step seven: breathe
if it is better than good enough
if it is sharp and clear
if it tells a story
(if it tells your story)
if you poured your soul into it, if it’s all your own
take a deep breath and admire
be satisfied.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Elizabeth (Lee) Miller

Elizabeth Miller (also known as Lee Miller) was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1907 to parents Theodore and Florence Miller. It was her father who first introduced her to photography, and she was his model as a teenager. She was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer after learning a lot from the photographer Man Ray. During WWII, she became an distinguished war correspondent for Vogue magazine, as she covered events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

I think I must be drawn to war photographers. At first I picked Elizabeth Lee Miller just because we have the same last name and same initials, and when I found out she was a model I expected to find a lot of fashion photos, etc. Instead I found this.

I think that photographs that document the Holocaust are particularly interesting. There are images, such as this one, that absolutely shock and horrify people, just because they are so graphic and violent and, to be honest, frightening. At first they made me really uncomfortable, and actually I guess that's still the case because I certainly don't like looking at them. However, I can see how, especially in context with the Holocaust, they can be important. It seems to me like photographs like these serve as a sort of brutal reminder. They show the horrible things that human beings can do to one another, and I used to think that that was all they were good for, and I thought that was absolutely sickening and horrible. However, then I began to believe that perhaps we have to have reminders of the terrible things that have happened, as a sort of tribute to those who suffered through them, and also as a way to make sure nothing so horrible ever happens again. It's far from pleasant, but it's not without purpose.

I found this particular photograph interesting just because of the framing, and the juxtaposition of the two groups of people - the corpses and the crowd of people looking at them.

Sorry to go off on a bit of a morbid tangent here, but I think that some of the reason that this photograph is so interesting and well known is because of humanity's general fascination with things that frighten us. It's the obsession with the strange or the eerie or the downright scary that drives us to slow down and look at car crashes as we pass them, go to haunted houses, watch Fear Factor and horror movies. Sometimes something can really be so horrible you can't look away.

On the other hand, I think this photograph also inspires compassion. Someone looking at it really does feel for the person in this photograph, and the emotion is not one of pity so much as "I wish I could help."

I've mentioned before on this blog that I've come to believe that communication is a huge part of photography. Well, I certainly think that this image is an example of communication between a photograph and the person viewing it. I would normally never look at something like this, because I wouldn't believe that any good could come of it - I would only make myself sad and scared. However, the reason that I do look at it is because it speaks to me. It is a photograph that stirs up emotion in the person looking at it. It is heart wrenching, and I feel almost as though I am being dragged into the photograph, because I suddenly care about the people in it. It does leave me with a sort of sense of helplessness, because I want to help the people in the photograph and I can't. But it also leaves me with a sense of hope, or something like that, because I want to help others now, almost in an attempt to make up for not being able to do anything for these two.

Viewing these photographs feels almost the same as watching a tragedy for me. It doesn't uplift me in the typical happy go-lucky kind of way, not at all, but in the end I am left with a sort of feeling of catharsis. It's more of a cleansing feeling than a helium balloon one (if that makes any sense at all), but that doesn't mean that it isn't a good feeling.

This is probably my favorite Elizabeth Miller photograph. Not only because it doesn't scare me or leave me sad, but because I think it is another example of communication (just a different kind). This picture seems to both give and take - it is appealing, the lighting is absolutely gorgeous, and the contrast is interesting and lovely. But it is also confusing, to tell the truth. I don't know exactly what I'm looking at. And I have the feeling that I could look at it for a long time and still have not idea what I'm looking at, but it is because of this that it feels like the photograph is almost having a conversation with the viewer. Also, I've recently kind of fallen in love with this idea that things don't have to make sense to be beautiful. I first stumbled across this in my Wire/creative writing class, because I used to write very straightforward poems and I used to only really like very straightforward poems. However, as I started expanding my horizons and reading poetry that wasn't at clear, I started realizing that maybe it wasn't about understanding exactly what I was reading. I could find beauty in the sound of the words and the number of syllables and the way the poem rolls off my tongue like butter, and even if I had no idea what it was about, I could still love it. I think that I can relate this to photography as well. I don't quite understand what I'm looking at, but I can still enjoy it. I can still love the contrast, and the framing, and the space, and the fact that I can do that is what makes this photograph (for me at least) so lovely and interesting.

This photograph is also pretty interesting - sad, again, but peaceful. It has more of a melancholy feel. I've come to love the way that light is reflected in water lately, and I think that it works nicely in this photo. This photograph is actually kind of a breath of fresh air from lots of war photography, because it's not gory or bloody or violent. It's certainly not happy, but it's not horrifying either. Also, I love the textures in the pictures - the smooth plants on the side, each individual ripple in the water.

Final Project Journals

I'm just doing an after journal, because I think that my other journal about the idea for this assignment kind of qualifies as a before journal. So.

I certainly had the best shooting experience with this assignment about people who stretch time. At first I was really worried and while I had some ideas I didn't know what I was going to shoot for certain, but then I once I started shooting I got some nice results. I drove around at night (well, I was driven around at night) and took portraits of people who work the graveyard shift, which I thought was really interesting. Not one person refused to have their picture taken, though some were a bit reluctant. At first I was really nervous about asking complete strangers if I could take their photos, but once I warmed up to it a bit it was easy, and even fun. It turns out that the people who work at Harmon's at midnight are really, really nice.

However, despite a lovely shooting experience, I have mixed feelings about my final photos. I really really love some of them (such as the one taken at the Drive-Thru window and the one of the scary looking guy from the 7-11), but others I'm not so happy with (such as the three people at the Belgium Waffle). And at first this kind of surprised me, because when I was back from shooting I at first thought that they'd just turn out great and perfect in every way. But now that I think about it, I don't think that I should've been so surprised by this, because it is similar to the experiences I've had with shooting portraits before (it seems kind of hit and miss for me). If you want to scroll back in my blog all the way back to last term when we had portraits as an assignment, you'll see that I had six portraits to turn in for the assignment, and then I had a separate blog post of images that didn't quite work. Shooting portraits does seem kind of difficult, but while I do get mixed results I still love it. Ultimately I set out to take pictures of interesting people because I really do find people fascinating and I guess I wanted to share that. So while I think that I could have had more "really good" portraits, I am still pretty happy with what I got, and it's a project I might be interested in expanding in the future.

Mr. Patteson!

Hello. Just a brief note - journals for assignment four are up, but once again appeared at a kind of random spot on the blog. Sorry about that, you'll have to scroll down a bit to read them.


Person #1

The most obvious thing about her is her nose - it sticks straight out of her face like a sail on a boat. It is large and pointy but not crooked. It is covered in freckles of varying sizes and tones, probably from years of days at the beach without sunscreen. The nose seems to be the focal point of her face if not her whole body, and at first it is all that I can notice. Then slowly, as if she is coming out of the fog nose first, the rest of her seems to materialize, almost as an afterthought. Her hair is not straight or curly or wavy - it doesn't seem to know what to do with itself, so it just frizzes in odd patterns that give her a mousy and almost unkempt look. However, then I notice the carefully applied color coordinated makeup and think that this must be a woman who cares about her appearance. However, it surprises me that even though her lipstick and eyeshadow seemed to have been so carefully picked out this morning she does not seem to have tried to cover her freckles. Well, maybe she did and just didn't succeed, but maybe it's just because she's used to it. Maybe she even likes them.

The rest of her isn't particularly extraordinary. She slouches a little when she walks, not too terribly, but enough that it's obvious she's no ballerina. She is wearing an ironed white button down shirt and a shapeless brown skirt that covers her legs down to her mid calf. The only spot of color on her are her shoes - bright red ballet flats. They seem like kind of a strange choice - they're shiny and new, but don't seem to go with the rest of her outfit. She's also not particularly tall, and I wonder for a moment why she wouldn't have wanted shoes that give her a bit of a height boost - I can understand not wanting to wear twelve inch stilettos, but a little heel wouldn't hurt. Then again, maybe that's another thing she's gotten used to. She does seem pretty comfortable in her own skin. Her red shoe taps impatiently as the slow cashier counts out her change, and then she picks up her bag - all she bought was a head of lettuce, a pack of gum, and an Us magazine - and then she turns to go, walking nose first out the door.

Person #2

The man is seated in a chair at the library, hunched over a pile of papers. The first thing I notice about him is that he's in constant motion - his right leg is bouncing slightly up and down and he sort of bobs over his papers. He is wearing a blue shirt and sweating in it, and his brown jacket is hanging over the back of the chair. Under the tables, his shoes are scuffed. Despite the fact that he seems so panicked and hot, every single button of the blue shirt is buttoned, all the way up to his neck, making him look kind of like a baker, I think. However, his shoes are untied, and I can't help but wonder if he breathes through his feet - the rest of him looks so uncomfortable. Occasionally he scribbles something on a paper before furiously flipping to the next in the stack. The pen is blue, and when it stops working, he whips out a new one from his chest pocket - there are three there.

When he looks up for a moment it is only to look at the clock (even though he has a watch on), and I only catch a brief glance of his face. But what I can see is that his eyes are almost unusually small, and seem like they don't quite go with the rest of his face. I can't tell what color they are, especially through the lenses of his thin rimmed glasses that seem almost too tight for his head. He bows his head again and I see the beginning of a bald spot on top. But I have to go (or else he'll think I'm weird for staring at him for so long...). The last things I notice are the streaks of gray and the dandruff on his shoulders, and that he is scribbling even faster now on the papers and tears through them.

Place #1

I am freezing, but that's my fault - I made it that way. I'm in my room. The fan is perpetually running at the highest speed, but as if to compensate for the amount of energy this takes the lights are always off. It isn't dark yet, but the lighting isn't great. To my left is a window with an ugly curtain with a pattern of brown and pink butterflies on a turquoise background, but it isn't really a curtain, I guess, it's just an extra bed sheet hung over the pole across the top of the window where the old (real) curtain used to be. Next to the window is a large off white bookshelf, and every shelf but the top one is crammed to overflowing. There are only four books on the top shelf (my carefully chosen favorites).

In front of me there is a large dresser with flower handles. On top of it rest a mirror and a carefully folded blanket and a pile of books. To my right is a desk, also covered in books and half full (or half empty?) cups of water, which catch what little light there is in an interesting way, casting strange shadows across the rest of the desk. The floor is cluttered with clothes and random objects - pipe cleaners, journals, left shoes, to-do lists - and the carpet really is hardly visible.

But the most interesting part of this room are the walls. They, like the room, are also completely cluttered, but this time it's on purpose. One wall is dedicated entirely to quotes, both inspirational and funny, printed out on card stock paper in different colors and taped to the white walls. Another wall has book jackets on it, also carefully taped up, along with bookmarks. There's a cover for A Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Tale of Desperaux, Seasons, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Then there's the third wall, covered entirely in what can loosely be referred to as accomplishments. There are swim meet ribbons of every color, posters for random plays, and random paintings and drawings. And of course, photographs. The black and white photos are practically wallpaper, there are so many of them. Some are good, some are absolutely terrible. But they are there, photos I took, processed, and printed - pictures of shoes, and flowers, and people, and ceilings all haphazardly taped to the wall.

Place #2

It's very dark.

There're two street lamps in the parking lot, but aside from that there is no other source of light. I am sitting on a bench at night in a park near my house, feeling very alone even though I know my family and the car are about thirty feet directly behind me. The park at night is both creepy and peaceful, threatening and inviting. The playground is mostly made up of giant tires, and had I not already known what they were I never would have been able to tell what they were in this dark. The trees are tall here, maybe as high as a two story building, and lanky but strong. The leaves are vaguely outlined against the sky, but it is hard to make out their exact shapes - it is just black on black. The park would be perfectly silent, were it not for the creek, which rushes quickly by. It is actually quite far ahead of me - maybe fifty meters or so - but it is so loud that I feel like I could reach out and touch it. It hisses and splashes, and I carefully walk up to the fence that boarders it. It looks strangely alive, almost like a giant snake twisting and spitting. The light from the moon hits it in odd patterns at odd places. The reflections of the light hitting the water are strange but beautiful nonetheless. They are confusing, but that is because they are supposed to be - it's an example of something that doesn't have to make sense to be admired and enjoyed, like an interesting photograph, or a poem.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


My final project is on people who fight TIME.

Not people who fight CRIME.

So despite what my father believes, it has nothing to do with the following website:

That is all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Assignment #4 Journals, Before and After

Assignment #4: Night

This assignment gave me a sense of time that I wasn't expecting from it. I really like this kind of reminds me of Star Trek, with the whole time jump idea, where...

Nah, just kidding. I just read my last journal post and realized I watched WAY too much TV before writing it, and have resolved to do less random connections and tangent indulging in the next few of my posts.

So. Night.


After I spent all this time in past projects learning that I really shouldn't shoot at night, and resolving to from now on shoot only during the day, this project seems to kind of a backwards step. And I wish that it had come earlier in the term (or during winter term would've been nice), because I just have all of these memories of fighting so hard for light earlier this year, and now I kind of have a reciprocal problem. Oh well. It's a valuable life experience I guess (or at least, that's what I'm telling myself to keep myself happy).

So far I haven't really got any good ideas for this project. All I know is that I'd like to shoot at this park by my house - there're some interesting shapes there with the playground equipment, a public pool, a creek, and huge trees.


Is it possible to marry a tripod? Because I think I'm in love with mine. I shot at first without one, and was struggling with trying to avoid camera shake when I had such long exposures, but once I found one to use it was smooth sailing from there, and I got some really nice, in focus and sharp images.

This project turned out actually pretty well. I had a really interesting shooting experience. My wonderful mother drove me around all night long, kind of taking me just wherever I felt like going. At first I struggled with finding good subject matter, but after I while I really got used to looking for interesting photos in the dark. I started noticing things I normally wouldn't, such as the various shadows cast by a specific tree and the way that the light hit the water of a creek by my house.

Ultimately I really liked the final images I ended up with, which surprised me because I wasn't originally very gung-ho about this assignment. I like that I got a variety of images, from a concrete parking facility to a creek. Speaking of which, the creek pictures were probably my favorite - they are a little bit confusing, but I like that about them, because I think that night in general is kind of confusing. I love the way the light plays with the water, and the shapes of the trees on the banks. I love the contrast of the bright reflections and the dark shadows. I think they turned out very nicely, and that overall my entire project did as well. This might actually be my favorite assignment yet, and I have the feeling that there's a moral in there somewhere as I originally wasn't looking forward to it. Maybe something like "don't judge a book by its cover" or "I'm not always right" or "be open minded." Or there could always be something obscure like "slow but steady wins the race", but I really didn't see how that one fit in to the story about he tortise and the hare, much less this photo assignment.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mr. Patteson - just thought that you might want to know that my third journal is up now too, down below with the other two.