Pay The Piper

Bagpiper playing for tips on The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland.

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In The United Kingdom

Mark Twain could have been speaking of the United Kingdom when he said “Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs.” I ate the Full English breakfast almost daily during a two-week stay in England, Wales and Scotland in 2005 and never tired of the menu, nor the scenery. Each morning one component of the meal varied from the previous day’s: sausage in Wales was not the sausage of England, and scrambled eggs are amazing in their infinite forms.

All this would have merely been food on a plate, of course, absent the splendid hospitality of our hosts. As my wife and I chose bed and breakfasts for our lodgings, each day presented a unique home, a new town and countryside, and fresh glimpses into the reserved but warm lives of the people. Truly, the perfect seasoning to our journey. (Thanks to Linda Genaw for the use of her breakfast photo.)

I didn’t spend all my time in the UK eating, but I did take fewer photographs than I’d imagined I would. The main reason is that, in the US, stopping to shoot while traveling by car isn’t too difficult; generally, our roads have ample shoulders where both autos and tripods can park. UK roadways simply don’t allow this: the edge of the road is next to the a) hedgerow b) stone wall c) sidewalk d) parked vehicles e) horses and riders f) a combination of a-e. I passed up locations because stopping would have been impractical (if not suicidal); and besides, that lorry in the mirror was coming
up fast.

Turning in our hired car in Edinburgh, I bought a copy of Outdoor Photography magazine to read on the train as we returned to London. This glossy monthly was a pleasant surprise, as feature articles actually outweighed advertisements by a fair margin and were well written. The location pieces, which include directions to The Nearest Pub, will make you want to see and photograph these historical landscapes too. No pulled punches in book and equipment reviews, either, a fresh change from the it’s-hard-to-pick-the-winner-here offerings seen in other publications.

Disorderly Conduct


When I hear the noun chaos I visualize a wedding photographer beseiged by newly-minted mothers-in-law: “Hurry! They’re going to cut the cake!” “Shoot that again, I know I blinked.” “Why is this taking so long?” And so on, all without an assistant (a last-minute cancel). Now, where is that spare synch cord?

Chaotic is a sucker adjective that attaches readily to descriptions of desks (home or office), birthday parties for young children, and airport terminals at Thanksgiving.

Scientists would have us believe that Chaos is a relatively new field of research, and dress it up as nonlinear science or dynamical systems. Among its students are physicists, mathematicians, chemists, and biologists. But photographers have always confronted the challenges of seemingly random and hard-to-describe systems in nature. We deal with disorder.

Crawling around in wet grass with a macro lens is a wonderful place to find chaos. Sometimes the photos work, more often they don’t, and we keep returning for more in our own disorderly ways.

All Aboard!

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Chattanooga, Tennessee already had its Choo Choo. Travel by rail, via trains and trolley cars, was both popular and necessary. In 1909 the new Terminal Station was opened to great fanfare. No one foresaw the impact automobiles and airplanes would have on domestic travel, nor the demise of their beloved trains.

In 1917 another Chattanooga icon, the MoonPie®, was born at the Chattanooga Bakery. As I pick the graham cracker crumbs off my shirt, I can tell you this famous Southern staple is not in decline.

What Do You Think?

The world of visual arts is full of penetrating questions, such as “Can a chimpanzee be an artist?” In 2005 a group of paintings by Congo, a chimp “encouraged” in his art by anthropologist Desmond Morris, were put up for auction in London. The Painting Primate completed 400 paintings and drawings in the 1950s, and Morris believed the chimp was an “intense” artist, “focused on what he was doing.” Congo’s work was a commercial and critical success: the British public purchased nearly all of his pictures, and he received an exhibit at a respectable London gallery. If that weren’t enough, Pablo Picasso bought one of the paintings and hung it on his studio wall.

So too, the exuberant spatters of paint on butcher paper done by a six-year-old, though not offered at auction, are nonetheless objets d’art. The venue of a refrigerator door is quite satisfactory. Payment will be in milk and cookies.

In the end, art needn’t be acceptable to be accepted.

Blogscript: At the London auction one person bought all three of Congo’s paintings for more than $25,000 (example at right). At the same showing works by the French impressionist Renoir and pop artist Andy Warhol drew little attention and went unsold.

Got The Blues?

Spring is The Undecided Season in Oregon. To rain, or not to rain…and where did we put the umbrella? The precipitation is welcome here in the Willamette Valley, as we continue to lag behind in “normal” measurable rainfall. An above-average snowpack in the mountains is good news, but boaters are watching reservoir levels while farmers measure soil moisture and keep their gamblers’ fingers crossed, and photographers awaken from months of gray-card skies and fog and condensation. It’s easy to get the visual blues this time of year while waiting for the skies to clear. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the cure is right under our feet.

Fire Wall

In the early 1970s an intense fire destroyed a local department store. This fire wall stopped the blaze from extending into an adjacent building occupied by a pharmacy and photo shop. The camera used was a Minolta SRT-101, with an 85 1.7 MC Rokkor-X lens and Kodachrome film.

Image data was downloaded to a spiral Mead® Memo book (pocket version) using a retractable Papermate® ball-point pen, and subsequently stored on an in-house server using the “EXIF” Filing Method*.

*(Effortlessly X-cised Information Fragments)

Do You Know Where YOUR EXIF Is?

Computer-based photography is the perfect breeding ground for buzz words and acronyms. Even DEET can’t protect you from RIPs, FTPs, PDFs, and DVDs loaded with TIFFs. Escape those pests and you run smack into Brave New Words trying to chew their way into the dictionary: how long before workflow makes the page next to work force?

I have come to detest “Actuations” (see also Clicks). This is the number of times the camera’s shutter has fired, and it wasn’t an important number to most photographers prior to digital bodies. Then, you appraised a camera by its age, appearance, and whether it worked smoothly or not.

Now, as photographers continually upgrade to ever-newer models, these shutter cycles have become Important Information. It’s often difficult to determine how a body’s been treated from the outside (blame the polycarbonates), but numbers are absolute. A camera with 10,000 shots on its counter becomes preferable to another with 15,000, and actuations sails virtually unnoticed into our vocabulary.

NOTE: For those who shoot with a Canon 1Ds (see also Antiques) and use the Mac OS X platform, you can find out the number of shots on your body with a program called Simple EXIF Viewer. I dropped a couple of JPEGs into this small application and discovered a wealth of information, including an accurate count of those damn actuations. Be sure to read the notes on the Web page, as the program may not work for all cameras.