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Chinese national flag and Bird's Nest stadium, viewed from the Convention Center

The Bird’s Nest viewed from the Beijing Convention Center

(This is Part Two in a series of photography blogs about my recent travels to China.)

During my last business trip to Beijing, I stayed at The Beijing North Star Continental Grand Hotel, which is connected by a sort of maze-like afterthought of a hallway to the Beijing Convention Center. The hotel sits about two blocks from Olympic Park (Aolinpike Gongyuan – 奥林匹克公园), the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. To get there, one takes one’s life in one’s hands and scurries as quickly as ever so possible across Bei Chen Dong Lu, pausing on the traffic island under the entrance ramp to Ring Road 4, then ambles through a cluster of food vendors, takes the slightly wooded path around the public restroom building, and thence through the turnstiles to the main entrance to the Park. This, you’ll recall, is where the breathtakingly phenomenal Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics were held in the striking Bird’s Nest (formally “National”) stadium  (Niǎocháo – 鸟巢). You remember those: 2,008 drummers beating illuminated drums in perfect unison; a synchronized salute to movable type; the deflating sense, that grew as the evening unfolded, that the phrase “Opening Ceremonies” was being redefined right before your eyes, and that a dozen grinning children in traditional national costumes performing indigenous folk dances while rhythmic gymnasts twirled long ribbons and a pop singer sang something about this-is-the-moment were just not going to cut it anymore, opening-ceremonies-wise. This was where that happened.

Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008).

Sometimes a famous landmark fails to live up to one’s inflated expectations when seen in real life. I remember my first impression of the Coliseum in Rome being, “but it’s so small…”, my mental image of the ruin having been forged by movie sets and CGI models that made the Coliseum appear, well, vastly more colossal than it actually is. The Bird’s Nest, not so much. It really is quite a gorgeous piece of architecture, carefully placed in its surroundings with an eye to the Chinese fondness for feng shui.

Bird's Nest stadium reflected in Main Lake, Beijing

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), viewed across Main Lake.

“Feng shui” (風水) is an interesting, ancient concept that I shall proceed to butcher through simplification here. Basically, it’s a philosophy governing the mindful placement of structures and their components in a way that is both aligned with the natural elements of their surroundings and harmonious with more esoteric considerations. The result of successful feng shui design is the creation of auspicious conditions for the inhabitants and a generally more pleasing environment for everyone. The idea dates back, like practically everything else in China, it sometimes seems, to before 4000 BC. So it’s not a trendy new idea despite its current popularity with some interior designers. The phrase feng shui refers to wind and water—elements that naturally flow when unimpeded, or back up and create unpleasant pressures and inconvenient consequences when blocked. Feng shui attempts to enhance the free flow of elemental energies through and around structures.

You can see feng shui at work in the Olympic Park, where architectural and natural elements are intentionally placed to interact with one another. A winding, lily-lined, man-made lake (that’s designed to resemble the 2008 Olympic torch) reflects the Bird’s Nest in about as perfectly aesthetically balanced a way as one could want. The Bird’s Nest itself is an artificial concrete and steel object made to resemble a natural, nurturing one; an open structure that allows air and light to flow freely through its body, creating constantly changing patterns of light and shadow. (You can also see feng shui at work in the rhythmic flow of progressing through the Forbidden City (more on that later), and, as I wrote about here, in the way the Great Wall hugs the mountaintop terrain over which it winds.)

Beijing National Stadium, reflected in Main Lake at night,

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), reflected in Main Lake at night. There’s a convenient fence surrounding the lake that makes a serviceable tripod for long-exposure night photography.

Back at the Olympic Park, you can see feng shui at work in the Beijing National Aquatics Center (popularly referred to as the “Water Cube”), where Michael Phelps swam to multi-medalled glory. A building that physically embodies the “wind and water” of feng shui, it’s a high-tech construction of more than 4000 thin, inflated plastic bladders mounted on different sized frames surrounding a pool: literally a box of air containing water. Unlike the Bird’s Nest, the Aquatics Center’s ETFE walls have not aged particularly well in the punishing weather and pollution of Beijing, and now have the powdery dullness of a grocery bag snagged in a tree when viewed in the harsh light of day. At night, though, the Center glows with a blue iridescence.

National Aquatics Center, Beijing

National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”). Architects: PTW Architects (Australia) (2008).

Bird's Nest and Water Cube at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. and the National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”), at night. Note how the wall around the stadium resembles the Water Cube’s geometry.

Coming soon: Forbidden!

I should warn the unwary reader that this blog post most emphatically does not include pornographic photographs or anything particularly rude or lascivious—at least not as defined by the US Supreme court in Miller v California (1973), which established a three-pronged (heh, he said “pronged”) test: 1. “Average-person-applying-contemporary-community standards; 2. Activity defined by state law; or 3. Lack of serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. (I knew those years in law school would pay off someday, if only in the ability to write a very thorough Disclaimer.) One photo does, however, include a Very Naughty Word printed on the subject’s t-shirt, but I’ll give you fair warning and you can feel free to close your eyes at that point.)

I suppose from an SEO standpoint I could hardly have chosen a better title for this entry. Other than getting fairly specific with metadata references to specific body parts, orientations, and fetishes, the title alone should generate a fair amount of traffic to my little backwater of occasional bloviations. No matter that breathless web-surfers who find their way here expecting one thing will be almost immediately sent storming away by the mere fact that there are words here rather than freeFreeFREE video clips; I will have captured their eyeballs for my web analytics and boosted my usage metrics, which would be significant if I were running a particularly commercial site, which for the most part I do not appear to be doing. Never mind that the bounce rate will be Rather High; I just want to be seen. More than just lookyloos, though; I want people to link through to look at my photos. And a pony; a pony would be nice too. Glitter. Also world peace.

But that’s not the point here. (By the way, I’m starting to notice a pattern in my writing of these things, which is I tend to start off almost instantly with a digression, then wend my way back to the topic, take several darting trips elsewhere, and end up more or less where I’m supposed to be. (I knew those years of structural and semiotic literary analysis as a graduate student in English would pay off someday!) For this, I apologize, although I do not promise any particular relief anytime soon. I am, as they say, what I am.)

I have 2 photographic presences on the Internet: On the “public” site, Flickr, I tend to post lots of photos of vacations, events, pets, or other stuff. It’s sort of a social media thing. At EButterfield Photography on Photoshelter I focus more on the best-of those, and more commercial, editorial, and (though I hesitate to say it) artistic photos. It’s a bit schizophrenic, but it seems to make sense to me. Flickr tracks views and other activity very visibly, so it’s easy for me to see which photos people seem to find interesting (more on that in a moment). Photoshelter is a bit more complex to track, but the tracking is much more granular and statistically useful. The point here is that on those occasions when I post photos to my Flickr site that include any amount of exposed flesh, those photos skyrocket in viewership. No matter that they may be photographically inferior to other, less fleshy photos, or that the shirtlessness involved may not even be central to the photograph’s actual subject, the views pour in.

Everyone, it seems, likes a nice set of pecs and abs.

What’s interesting to me is that on an Internet with so many flavors of full-throated pornography for those so inclined to enjoy, there would be any particular prurient interest in relatively demur photos of semi-naked gentlemen not engaged in particularly erotic behaviors, and generally wearing more clothing than they would on a typical day at the beach.

(I’m referring here, obviously, to varieties of street photography, not to posed nudes. Those latter, for the most part, I keep secured behind a password on EButterfield Photography, with only the most innocent included in my public portfolio.)

So here’s the thing: Regardless of the quality of the photo involved, a photo of a half-naked guy will always, forever, without exception generate more views on Flickr than a photo with any other subject matter, regardless of the comparable artistic or topical nature of the two images. A photo of President Obama walking down a street in Long Beach eating an ice cream cone would simply not generate as many “views” as some anonymous and not necessarily buff young man dancing on a flatbed with his shirt off.

Let me be clear: I’m not in any way condemning photos of athletic and handsome young men dressed only in jeans and hiking boots. It is totally true that I have taken those photos, and equally true that I have chosen to display them, legitimately, as images from public events (and not for sale). I posted them, and assigned tags and accepted invitations to link them to various groups. So I’m not saying I’m a poor abused innocent whose gentle artistry is being hijacked by Morlocks. I’m merely observing.

Some of these photos are posed, some are “street photography” in the sense that the subjects were out and about in public, engaged in public activities. I’m not lurking in the bushes taking random photos of unsuspecting sunbathers (at least not any more). To my mind, surfers are engaged in a public activity and are fair game. A parade is “street photography” at its most obvious: People are walking down the middle of the street, and their expectation of privacy is low. Ditto for street performers tumbling around on a pier. And the photos aren’t, in my view, entirely prurient either: These young men have worked hard to look like they do, they’ve gone to some trouble to display themselves. That I enjoy looking at them through the viewfinder is, to my mind, sexually irrelevant; I like looking at kittens and birds and snails, too, and I have no wicked intentions about them at all. Sadly, perhaps due to my relentlessly advancing age, the gentlemen are merely objects for collecting light and shadow more than anything physically alluring. I know pornography when I see it, and this ain’t it.

Anyway, case in point, this photo from the 2012 Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Parade:

three muscular young men posing

The young men in this photo were in the parade on behalf of a local moving company, which obviously has a marketing person who knows about how to appeal to specific audiences. Within seven days, the photo on Flickr had generated over 600 views, which is a fair number in a short time. Three months later, that has grown to 2,076, with additional views in the double digits still being added every day.

This photo, on the other hand, which I think is more interesting, was posted last year and still has only 265 views.

Drag nun from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Ida Know

This one is from a similar parade in Chicago in 2007, and has been viewed nearly 11,000 times:

Go-go boy on a float, Chicago Pride Parade 2007

Not all the photos from Pride events have skin, and some of those even generate activity on Flickr. This one, for instance, (which I call “Diversity” for obvious reasons) is from the 2010 parade, and has racked up 1,212 views (a nice number, but hardly in the shirtless realm):

Leather daddy and femme drag queen in Pride parade

And this photo, which I just love as both a photo generally and a character study in particular, from the 2009 parade, has been looked at only 802 times:

[NSW BAD WORD WARNING]

(Seriously, a photo with a Very Bad Word in it is coming right up)

(Also, there’s a Rather Rude Gesture, too, so Be Warned)

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Yelling biker lesbian with "fuck love" t-shirt making a rude gesture

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[ALL SAFE NOW]

It’s interesting that on my Flickr site, of the top-twenty most-viewed photos, 17 are of random attractive men, 16 of whom are shirtless (accounting for over 135,000 individual views).  The two that don’t fall into that category are outliers in more ways than one, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain their apparent wild popularity.

One is a not-spectacular photo of the late Jonathan Frid (he who played Barnabas Collins on the original US soap opera in the late 1960s) at a Dark Shadows Convention in Burbank (yes I was there and you just be quiet).

:Dark Shadows" television series actor Johnathan Frid

There are many elderly Frid fans out in the world, I suppose; plus he recently enjoyed somewhat heightened visibility thanks to the fairly dreadful Tim Burton “Dark Shadows” movie starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas. (Immediately prior to the film’s release, Frid had the good sense to shuffle off his mortal coil and retire permanently to a locale in which his legacy was, presumably, less egregiously disresepected.)

The other one is a real head-scratcher. It’s a photo of a 1939 painting, “The Awakening of the Forest” by Paul Delvaux, displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Photo of surrealist painting by Paul Delvaux

While it does arguably include vastly more nudity than my Pride Parade photos, we’re talking lithe little fairyfolk here in a surrealist setting that’s generated over 7,500 views since late 2007. Either some people will go way out of their way to seek out nudity online, or there’s an art history class somewhere that’s using a link to this one.

I maintain the Flickr site because I’m obsessed with eyeballs, and my “serious professional” site, EButterfield Photography, has generated just under 2,000 views (and a few commercial sales and portrait jobs) since it was launched with moderate fanfare almost a year ago. On that site, interestingly, shirtless men do not drive viewership. My most-viewed image is this one:

cat peering over the edge of a table

And this generated as much activity as the movers from Pride on the same site:

Macro photo of snail on glass, showing "teeth"

The ultimate point for me, I guess, is that dammit I have some really nice arty, editorial, and worthy images on the Web; why do folks flock to snapshots of boys who’ve taken off their shirts to show that they’ve been to the gym in recent memory? (I suppose I could also ask why, if I’m so annoyed by the behavior of that particular audience, do I persist in posting the things? That, it seems to me, is an impertinent and impolite question, so we’ll just pretend that no one asked it and just move on.) For now, I’ll just opine that generating views on Flickr has become one of my hobbies, related to photography, and that overall my Flickr site (yeah and I’m shilling it here by constantly including links, so aren’t I just the big old hypocrite) has generated over 2 MILLION views since I first started populating it five years ago, and that just puffs up my ego all over the place. I’m a sad and shallow man, reliant on external approval to confirm my self-worth.

Oh well.

It recently occurred to me in a rare moment of clarity that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. I know that both my readers were despondent about this, and after initially assuring themselves that I was enjoying a fabulous eco-tour of some exotic location, undoubtedly fell into the inescapable conclusion that I’d been abducted by bug-eyed and throbbing-brained alien invaders with a proclivity for probing; or been dragged off by gaily-clad gypsies and forced to participate in traditional woodland dances and fits of fortune-telling; or perhaps I had fallen into a deep, deep hole. Rest easy, gentle readers, for none of these terrible things befell me. Nope, I’m just Lazy. And don’t think for a moment that I haven’t been thinking about you all this time, and scolding myself for being a Bad Blogger.

I can only offer the following series of excuses:

1. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the London Olympics, and then sat glued to NBC’s selective coverage, utterly enthralled by all the leaping, bounding, diving, and whatnot; and/or

2. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the Mars Science Laboratory (“Curiosity”) landing on Mars, and became so obsessed that I forgot to eat, and then sat riveted to NASA-TV’s livefeed from Mission Control, becoming alternatively misty-eyed and hysterical as Curiosity survived the Seven Minutes of Terror; and/or

3. I spent a great deal of time in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel conference rooms being all Serious and Business-y; and/or

3. I spent several weeks mesmerized by the civil, adult, substantive and insightful policy debates engaged in by the various candidates for US President, and had to take many days just to parse the intricacies of the detailed and thoughtful plans they’ve laid out for the nation’s future.

(OK, that last one’s just silly.)

Whatever the reason for my Bad Bloggerishness (Bad Bloggeritude? Bad Bloggery?) there has nonetheless been time to do some photography, which is what I write about here. And since I continue to bask in my delusional, narcissitic, and potentially psychotic fantasy that anyone in the world cares about what I’ve been doing, I shall then proceed as per usual to revel in the minutiae of the minorest of my daily activities.

Southern California Blues. The biggest benefit of having to travel quite a bit for work, aside from the whole meeting-new-people and broadening-one’s-horizons thing, is the opportunity for more (I think) interesting aerial photography. I try to make it a point to sit by a window (this is a wise move for three reasons: 1) for photographic purposes; 2) because no one climbs over you to get to the lavatory;  and 3) because the bulkhead is nice to lean against, and adds an inch or two more personal space—you’re welcome for that little Travel Tip.) Anyway here’s the coastline of Southern California shortly after takeoff from John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana:

Southern California coastline

Tentpole. I like architecture, and this photo from Denver International Airport is a good demonstration of why: Not only is it functional (the pylon is holding up the tent-like roof of the terminal) but it’s attractive. And what’s more, given the right angle of approach, it becomes a nice display of abstract geometry, divorced from its actual purpose. As a photographer, that’s one of my favorite things to do: get so close up to something (in the case of macros), or so far away (in the case of aerial views of the desert Southwest) or so particularly angled (like here) that the thing being photographed loses its “thingness” and becomes something new: a collection of lines and angles and colors, for instance. But enough about that. Here’s a picture from DIA:

Support pylon at Denver International Airport

Please Come to Boston. I took a little business trip to Boston, and snuck out on a rainy morning to see what was up in the Public Garden. This swan boat seemed a lovely thing, and the water droplets are, to me, quite nice.

 Swan Boat iin Boston's Public Garden

OK, possibly Shocking Displays of Skin below (probably safe for work, unless you work in a church).

You’ve been Warned.

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Tough Guy. I continue my efforts to pursue portrait photography using the nice little home studio equipment I acquired not all that long ago. James wanted a series of photos taken that looked “model-y” and showed off his physical assets, so that was a fun project for a summer afternoon. (More of these here)

Shirtless male model with sunglasses

Daddy Bear. One thing seems to lead to another in this interwoven, interconnected, interdependent world we wander through, and shortly after James I found myself photographing Andre for what were to be some more…personal photos. This is one of the tamer ones. Interestingly (although not surprisingly to anyone who’s been to an International Mister Leather event and heard the big scary-looking S&M guys chatting about recipes and window treatments) Andre is not nearly as intimidating as he looks: he’s actually quite sweet and funny (I think this actually captures that a little bit), and the shoot was a lot of fun. (More of these here)

Male model in leather vest and codpiece

So that was what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I shall endeavor to be a more courteous and consistent correspondent in the future. With upcoming business trips to Beijing, Florida, New Jersey, and Belgium, plus whatever photogenic models wander my way, there will no doubt be much more to write about. And anyway there’s always Gimli The Cat:

Cat staring, reflected in tabletop

It occurred to me recently how many of my favorite photos have been taken through glass. Some through the plexiglas of an airplane window, some through plate glass of a hotel window, and some through aquarium glass.

Green River, Utah, from an airplane window

Green River, Utah, from an airplane window

Snail on aquarium glass

Snail on aquarium glass

morning sunlight on skyscrapers in New York

Morning in Manhattan through a hotel window

Anyway, that got me thinking about seeing, and about all the other things we’re looking through. I’m not sure why it’s interesting or important, but it seems that way to me, so here we go.

We’re always, really, looking through something. We see when light bounces off an object and hits our eyeballs and excites the little receptors in our retinas and sets off a cascade of chemical and electrical impulses that stream through the optic nerves and are sorted out and interpreted somewhere in our brain’s visual cortex, where the electro-chemical information is converted into images (there’s a word for that process, which is transduction. Another word is magical, but that’s not very scientific). So in a very, very intimate sense, everything we see is filtered through a lot of processes, and we don’t actually have direct experience of any object we’re looking at—only our brain’s interpretation of the electro-chemical impulses set off by photons bouncing off the object. Our whole day-to-day experience of the world is really sort of third-person, if you think about it.

Of course, if you think about things that way, about how what we see isn’t really what’s there, but what our brains are interpreting as what what’s there looks like, then life becomes about as complex as this sentence and none of us will ever get anything done, because we’re never really seeing what we think we’re seeing. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave suggests just this, with its story of folks in a cave watching a wall against which shadows are cast by people walking around behind them. They can interpret the shadows to their hearts’ content, but they never actually see the reality of what’s creating the images.

But let’s leave allegories and neuroscience behind and go back to photography, and how we’re looking through things. A viewfinder, for instance, is pretty obvious: we’re looking through lenses and mirrors (or the digital equivalents of lenses and mirrors). So when I take a picture through a window, I’m adding another filter for light to pass through in addition to the mirrors and lenses and any photofilters I’m using at the time.

Beyond the window, there’s more stuff between me and the object of my desired image. In the case of aquarium shots, there’s obviously water. Usually for those photos, my lens is pressed right up against the glass, so there’s not an intervening layer of air. For photos taken out of airplane or hotel windows, though, I’m looking through mirrors and lenses and glass and a thick mass of what we really should not think of as nothing, but as very much a sort of thinly viscous fluidity through which we make our way as much as fish swimming through water. The “nothing” around us is, after all, a complex mix of gases (nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide), plus some trace elements like water vapor, ozone, various particles and molecules, dust, and— depending on where you live—various levels of ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. So it’s not “nothing,” it’s “something,” and the light we see gets filtered through it.

Smog in Beijing

Zhengyang Gate in Beijing through the "air"

Everything, then, is experienced by us as photographers (and as human beings, I suppose) several steps removed from every actual thing itself. It can be something as obvious an obstruction as glass, or as ephemeral as a mix of more or less transparent gasses. And it’s always second- or third-hand through our brains’ processing of signals set off by photons that never touch the part of us that experiences seeing: it’s not our eyes that see, but our brains, and our brains have never met a photon. We are experiencing a movie, of sorts, played out inside our heads. It is only the common biology of our brains that lets us experience objects the same way, although since every human being is slightly different from every other one, what we “see” when we “see” may be slightly skewed as well: We may be living very isolated existences inside our heads.

Photography helps cut through that isolation though, in this way: By “freezing” an image in time, a photograph provides at least a single common perspective, a single common moment of light filtered through gas and glass and mirrors , that our variously-seeing brains can interpret perhaps one or two steps more in common than if we were standing together looking at the same actual thing.

Like so many of these postings, I’m not entirely sure what this all means, except that as photographers (and possibly even just as human beings) we need to consider what we’re looking through as much as what we’re looking at when we compose photographs and make decisions about images.

(A Note to my diligent reader: The following post includes some mention, with the utmost tact and propriety, of the photographing of unclothed individuals. Those who might find such goings-on alarming should probably go read something else.)

Let me start by saying I have some experience with photographing nudes. In my storied past I have worked with four nude models. All were men, and all were delighted to take of their clothes and prance about, as many men, as a general rule, are. Three were photographed in ambient light, either the sun streaming through two-storey windows or whatever happened to be cast by local floorlamps. The results were generally good, and nothing that couldn’t be fixed with patience and a delicate hand in Photoshop.

However last week I acquired a home studio set. It was, let me hasten to say, not expensive. As a rank amateur, a hopeful beginner, a pro-to-be, I was not comfortable shelling out the hard-earned in vast quantities for top-of-the-line equipment. But what I found, however, turned out to work just fine.

Lighting equipmentThe folks at ePhotoInc, via Amazon, provided me with the following, for less than $150, shown here set up in my den:

1 complete background support stand 10ftwide, 8ft high
2 x 7ft light stand
1 x backlight stand
2 x 105w bulb
1 x 45w bulb
3 x light holder
2 x 33″ umbrellas
1x 6×9 black, 1 x 6×9 white muslin background
1x carrying case for all that stuff

This was pretty much perfect for my purposes, and I spent several days tormenting Gimli the cat, my partner, Durrell, and assorted objets-d’art as I toyed about with different arrangements of lights and muslins and camera settings. I shoot a Nikon D-90, with a Nikon DX 18-105mm lens (although I’ve been known to use a Sigma 28-70mm too). I rapidly discovered that the lazy Auto setting I had been defaulting to was no long appropriate, and learned all about adjusting white levels to accommodate fluorescent lighting (yeah, yeah, I know, but the den’s small and heat’s an issue when the doors are closed to prevent Gimli from wandering all over the model lying on the floor…more on that in a moment).

Seasoned professional photographers, or those with a lick of sense, will be shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at me (and I will take their pictures and post ’em on the Web if they don’t quit it), but I think I’ve done some lovely work in the past with little or no formal training.

Oh but the lights are amazing. Suddenly objects that had been flat and dull-looking (neither Gimli nor Durrell falls into this category of course), when lit from varying angles, took on a richness of color, and depth of shadow, and a level of interestingness heretofore unbeknownst. (I’m really really sorry about how that sentence ended. Unnecessary multisyllabicism sort of creeped up on me when I wasn’t really paying attention.)

So here we go, I thought to myself. Promptly an ad was posted on Craigslist (the “Services” part, not the “Strangers Come Over And Fool Around With Me” part, thank you), and pretty promptly responses came back. I believe I discussed this in a previous blog. Some were, predictably, I suppose, not entirely genuine. Others, though, had promise. I sent inquirers to my gallery on the Web, and a few came back still interested. Two have been dealt with to date; two more are still on the calendar.

You can, if you feel like it, look at the results of this shoot on my PhotoShelter site in the password-protected gallery merely by dropping me an e asking for  the password-du-jour.  Some less scary samples can be seen in the Portraits gallery.

The piece I’m probably most pleased with is entitled “Tied” (detail shown to the left) and in it I had my model lie in a fetal position on the black-muslin-ed floor bound loosely with a selection of some of my nicer and more vividly-colored silk ties (I have some lovely ties, and have used them as props in previous work as well, but never quite like this). The result is a lovely mix of flesh-on-black punctuated by strips of bright jewel tones. The lights had a lot to do with the depth and richness of the photo (“Duh,” say those who know about such things), as did the model’s comfortableness in his own skin, and willingness to lie around on my floor wrapped up in neckwear.

So this blog is apparently generally concerned with me learning stuff at my advanced age that most semi-serious photographers already knew, so what did I learn? I’ve learned that I’ve just started learning about lighting, and I’ve learned about various new and surprising features of my camera. I’ve learned the value of a tripod, and also the value of a stepstool for looming over someone lying on the floor.  I’ve learned that fluorescent lights will in fact heat up a small room when the doors are closed. I’ve learned that I’m pretty comfortable working with models, clothed and otherwise, and that the difference between the two, once I’m fussing with lights and focus and angle and stuff, is surprisingly minimal. I’ve learned about the importance of making a model feel comfortable and unsurprised;  this is made easier when the model is pretty much already comfortable, and just needs reassurance that he’s not in the presence of a crazed serial killer which, in this case, he was not. Just a slightly enthusiastic new photographer with a thing for accessorizing.

Water erupting from a broken hydrant

This just goes to show that it’s important to have your camera with you. So there I was, just sitting in my office in Los Alamitos, California, when I looked out the window and saw, well, a geyser rising up on the other side of the parking lot. I should point out that Los Alamitos, on the cusp of Orange and LA Counties in Southern California, is not widely known as a hotbed of hotsprings, and it is not normally the case that I see Old Faithful periodically erupting over my Prius.

Nonetheless, there it was: a fairly alarmingly high gusher of water, steaming in the morning sun and rapidly flooding Los Vaqueros Avenue.

Because in addition to being the Director of our publications (magazines, scholarly journals, and books), conference operations, certification and professional education, I am also in charge of maintaining the grandeur of our facility (I wear far too many hats for someone to whom fashion matters), I immediately Directed someone to call the fire department and let them know what was up. What was up, in addition to a great deal of water, was that a large truck had tried to turn around in the middle of the street and knocked over a fire hydrant, then sped off rapidly in shame.

While we waited for the Authorities to plug the hole, I took my camera outside and took, among others, this photo (you can see the original here, in my online gallery. I waded across LosVaqueros, which was by then under about two inches of water, to photograph the geyser with the sun behind it. I suspected that this would result in an interesting image, and I think I was right.

In the end, the hole was plugged by some wet employees of the Dept of Water, and all was restored to normalcy (I also had the opportunity to point out to my staff, who’d gathered around the geyser, that their jobs didn’t suck as much as the guys’ who had to wade into the maelstrom with a six-foot key to try to turn off an underground valve while they got pummeled with cold water, so that was nice). It got me thinking, though, about the huge amount of water that had been wasted in a part of the country that has been experiencing years of drought. That thought, sobering as it was, mostly made me thirsty, so I went back inside and got a drink.

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