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The Life of P

Tag: photography (page 2 of 2)

Truth Through a Lens

That person is not what you think they’re like.
What you think they’re like is probably true, just not about them.

An interesting musing on truth in portrait photography from the BBC’s Genius of Photography. I liked it for its apparent contradiction, but the idea is that when you look at any portrait, what you are seeing isn’t that person but a photographer’s interpretation of them. So what you think they’re like is really true of either the character or the photographer. In fact sometimes a photographer is effectively creating a “self portrait” in the way they photograph someone else. I found myself particularly drawn to it having just ordered my new lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 I mentioned previously, from Amazon. Not without some inconvenience as my bank decided a £300 lens was an suspicious purchase, apparently ignoring the amount I’ve spent with Amazon recently. I suspect I will be using it almost exclusively for a while once it arrives.

The programme was immediately followed by Good Bye Lenin!, an excellent German film set in East Berlin around the time the Wall came down, about a son’s white lie to protect his mother which escalates out of control. Strangely I find myself associating it more with the USA, where I first saw it with Jenna in a mostly empty, freezing cinema, than with eastern Germany, despite having spent so much time there with Kirsten’s family over the past several years. It was the first time Jenna had seen a foreign film on the big screen, something hard to do in Baton Rouge, so I was sad to hear that cinema no longer exists. The film has that perfect balance of the tragic and comic which gives it a real emotional resonance in several scenes toward the end. Watching it late last night left me with a strange yearning for something that I can’t quite place.

The cutesy sounding IPKat blog is actually a very well respected source of news in the IP world and they’ve just published a well thought out rant about the creation of a Digital Rights Agency and why it’s an ill-conceived idea.


Tomine’s genius is to strip his medium of every possible type of grandiosity or indulgence, and the result is that life itself floods in.

-Jonathan Lethem


Last week I was browsing Forbidden Planet’s signed books and came across Adrian Tomine, a graphic novelist with whom I was not familiar. His real world stories revolve around relationships and immediately evoke Daniel ClowesGhost World, in both visual style and socially awkward characters, although the subject matter is slightly less offbeat. I picked up signed copies of Shortcomings and Summer Blonde and devoured them in quick succession. Particularly interesting is Tomine’s often cinematic style in which the reader feels they are watching a scene through a camera, lingering with identical panels. Scene changes are often abrupt, occuring in the middle of a line, and many conversations are joined mid-flow. From context it is always easy to extract what has been discussed previously, but the precise words are left to the reader. As contemporary fiction that just happens to use a different medium, Tomine is subtle, intelligent, easy to read and highly recommended.

While I still love my current camera lens (a Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS) there are certain things it can’t do. The main issue is low-light shooting since I detest flashes. If the subject is stationary there is little problem, particularly with the lens’ image stablisation, but those of the organic variety do have a tendancy to move. The trade off is then blurry shots or dark images. In short: time for a secondary lens. It didn’t take much research to stumble upon Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4, a prime lens (non-zoom) that is by all accounts beautifully crafted, letting in a huge amount of light and producing incredibly sharp images. Unfortunately I wouldn’t know. Nowhere in London has been able to sell me one. Because they don’t have any. If any photographers out there have a secret supplier please let me know.

A few days ago I mentioned the sudden expansion of Twitter as celebrity bloggers brought it into the mainstream. It becoming mainstream, while it may be less of a “club”, is no bad thing. The celebrities, however, might be. Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross both have extraordinary numbers of followers but, while both being intelligent and witty people, neither really seems to have that much to say. Rather their feeds are filled with drivel, mostly pandering to people who want to receive that one personal message from their célébrité du jour. I am not saying I have found the perfect balance for my own Twitter feed, but I also know that there is enough background noise in my life without needing to add these kinds of celebrity microblogs.

I do have one on my list though: Neil Gaiman. It’s not that unnecessary minutiae do not appear in his, but the majority are interesting links related to his work and that of his acquaintances. If you must include celebrities, I strongly recommend TweetDeck which lets you organise the feeds of those you are following into multiple columns so you can separate out friends for example. By default it also keeps replies and direct messages separate so you can easily identify and respond to them. TweetDeck requires the Adobe Air platform to be installed.

Chris and Alissa’s Wedding

Saturday’s graciously fair weather was particularly welcome as it featured a trip up to Oxford for Chris and Alissa’s wedding. In a rare display of efficiency, the anticipated gallery of wedding photos is already up. Those pictures probably convey more of the wonderful day than I can with words, but then that’s never stopped me before…

Wedding - RingsThe wedding itself took place in the heart of Oxford town in The Church of Mary Magdalen (the name being pronounced, somewhat confusingly, in the regular manner unlike the inexplicable Oxbridge college pronunciation — maudlin). Chris and I have discussed the high church nature of the services there, but I had not realised the true extent, with the whole affair easily mistakable for a Roman Catholic one. Having lived opposite them for years I know all his family well so it was great to see his parents, brother-and-best-man Alex, as well as sister-and-bridesmaid Jennifer.

Transportation - RoutemasterTransportation to the reception had been something of a secret, the bride and groom travelling in a replica of the car driven by Inspector Morse, while everyone else clambered aboard a Routemaster bus, presumably for the benefit of the visiting Americans, Alissa’s family and friends. We journeyed to Kingston Bagpuize House for the reception. A marquee in the garden featured a string quartet, drinks and canapés while everyone settled in. Most interesting however, was the artist who cut out freehand profile silhouettes of the guests without drawing anything first. He had an exceptional eye for picking out details and everyone was enthralled by his work. Meanwhile I was able to catch up with Guy, Francis, Ravi and Cameron who formed the Whitgift contingent.

CakesThe cutting of the cake — being a large one atop an impressive tower of smaller cakes that formed the marquee’s centrepiece — was followed by dinner inside the house. It was as delectable as one would expect, with a careful seating plan that ensured conversation flowed easily despite the mixed generations. The bride and groom made it through the speeches relatively unscathed, though with time slipping away proceedings were running very late and I had no hope of returning to London that night as planned.

Fortunately Chris’ parents, Sue and Dick, graciously agreed to put me up in their apartment (the benefit of being good friends with the groom’s parents!), though as it turned out I only hit the sofa bed at 5am after several hours of celebrations with Alex, Jennifer and several others. This would have been fine except that I had to be up just 3 hours later to head back to London for a family lunch. Navigating Oxford in the morning light made me realise it really is a pleasant town that I ought to spend more time in, much as Cambridge will always hold more importance for me. Fortunately I already have invitations to return.

The Rest of the States 2008

I have been quiet but the result is a full gallery of photos from the States. Unsurprisingly you will find lots of photos of Clark (who became progressively easier to photographs in just the 2 weeks I was there) and Karleigh (who is the sort of kid that complains when you stop taking photos of her). At the end of the gallery you will find all the photos from before and after the Art Melt at the Dixon house. Dave Marley had been planning this all summer, and the event was a great success.

Art MeltThe principle is simple — several artists get together to exhibit their work while anyone is free to come by and view. Debbie was initially worried about the number of people who might descend upon the house, but she thoroughly enjoyed the night. Alongside the art was a range of food to nibble, cold drinks and live music from a band Dave knew. It was particularly interesting being around the week beforehand, seeing several of the artists coming to the house to sketch ideas and prepare.

Distinguished visitors included a man running for judge which highlighted another idiosyncrasy of the American system. Elected positions are not just the obvious political ones, but rather span sheriff, district attorney (the chief prosecutor) and judges. On the surface this appears a more democratic way of doing things. However beneath that, and the reason we do not adopt it here, is the concern that these people cannot be expected to do their jobs properly when a popular election is imminent — they are clearly conflicted by a desire to retain their position.

Shopping Cart KidsTo avoid going stir crazy while cooped up in the apartment with medical books, a pregnant Jenna discovered couponing which has now overtaken her life (we mused that given our family’s apparent addictive personality — Caleb and WOW, Manel and cleaning — it was a good thing none had ever been hooked on drugs). The basic system involves matching specific coupons with sales on at certain stores. So if there is a buy one get one free coupon and a buy one get one free sale at the shop, after both items and the coupon are rung up, the marvel of modern technology and automated tills reduces the price to zero. It gets much more complicated than that, of course, but there’s a very odd feeling walking away with $18 of shampoo for 82 cents, particularly as the clerk apologises since he had technically overcharged us. The whole procedure becomes significantly more challenging when performed with three children in tow, I discovered, when we hooked up with Cassie. Jenna’s least proud moment, however, has to be sitting in front of Target cutting out coupons around 10pm only to find that once she was done the store had been closed for 10 minutes.

Jenna and I discussed a group photo she had taken of her friends at university and how she felt she was very much part of the picture despite not being physically in it — she can see herself in it. In much the same way I am very definitely in many of the photos in this gallery. In fact as a photographer I have often found that I can tell how another photographer feels about their subjects simply from the way they choose to shoot them, occasionally with surprising results…

Spring Cleaning: WordPress 2.5

First a small addendum to my last post about the launch of the new gaming blog, “The cheese was innocent!”, is that you can now access it via links from either the Links or Gaming pages. No need to search for that post every time you want to find the site!

With the release of WordPress 2.5 (the underlying platform for the main three sections of P-2006) it was time for some spring cleaning, bringing everything up to date and fixing a few kinks. As this is all under the hood stuff, little should be noticeable but a few new options are now available for me to use. First of all I recoded the sidebars to support “widgets” which are a more convenient way of adding features. In the short term it meant removing the tag cloud from the sidebar (but the full version is still available in the Tag Cloud page). Otherwise the process was fairly smooth, but let me know if you experience anything strange.

Others have discussed the changes in detail if you are interested or thinking about switching to WordPress. The big new change, however, is in how pictures are treated, with a mini gallery system now built into WordPress. With this you will now find that many of the photos alongside posts are thumbnails linking to larger versions, rather than forcing you to squint if you use a high resolution monitor! In the past I often avoided photos where too much detail was lost in shrinking them, whereas now I will not have to worry quite so much.

The first use of this feature is give you a quick tour of the flat since I realise I never put up a decent set of photos despite requests. I quickly snapped these with Kirsten’s camera shortly before we left for Germany so that she could show her family:

Baton Rouge, Whistlestop

The mosquito problem is, my researchers tell me, approximately seventy billion times worse down south in the city of Baton Rouge. My badly bitten arms concur. It becomes swiftly evident on visiting such places that the main advantage to a climate like Britain’s is that most of the unpleasant critters don’t want to live there — one need not fear being devoured by mosquitoes, home invasion by cockroaches, being bled dry by leeches or any of the other myriad terrors that abound in warmer climes. For that I, and my arms, are extremely grateful.

We spent only a single night in Baton Rouge, returning to Monroe today, which is not really long enough to see everyone as we would wish. Steve, Debbie and Nic came over to the Traylors’ for dinner and we surprised Dave Marley with a late night visit to the Starbucks at which he works part time. As instructed by Jenna I sampled their coffeeless Vanilla Bean Frappuccino — yes, the flavour is nice; no, it’s not really a milkshake, being too creamy and not frozen enough. Jeff was also around since he’s working this week before going back up to Monroe on Friday. Jane has wandered off on some kind of Tex-Mex holiday so I couldn’t catch up with her.

Today I rounded off the big camera purchase with a UV lens filter (the lens is large at 72mm, limiting options somewhat), receiving exemplary service at Ritz Camera, and a compact but nondescript camera bag (i.e. one that doesn’t scream “steal this!”). On a related note the May Week gallery has been massively extended with a host of tardy photos. Now that those are done, expect to see some USA pictures appearing shortly. I am still learning to use the new camera, particularly as regards light levels, so decent pictures may be less frequent for the latter part of the trip.

Under the Boy Wizard’s Spell

Today I have lots of time to write and no one with whom to talk due to the publication of a certain novel which shall not be named. In fact many of you probably aren’t reading this until tomorrow because you have to hit page 759 before your bodily functions resume regular service. This house now holds enough copies of the book to keep a steady fire burning for the next week (though in this climate why would one wish to?) as all my cousins are avidly consuming chapter after chapter, along with my sister, having picked up the books at midnight. There are also a few spare copies lying around though I did not really understand the explanation. I think it probably had something to do with increased efficiency and literary osmosis. Suffice to say that with most of my family reduced to the status of willing thrall, I now realise just how antisocial an activity reading a book can be.

Under the Boy Wizard's Spell

Karleigh and ChanceOn the other hand it leaves me free to write to you fine people, so at least there’s a silver lining. There is little really to report since we arrived at Monroe. The last leg of the journey involved travelling through a pleasant national park in Virginia and then driving pretty much non-stop until we reached Louisiana, stopping only to eat and sleep. Here we have been relaxing with family in various different ways, from frenetic bouts of Gears of War on the Xbox 360 with Caleb to playing everything under the sun with Karleigh. There has, admittedly, been rather a lot of the latter. After a brief shyness upon our arrival, she now adores the attention particularly upon discovering a stash of old photos and videos of her on my laptop. A very bright three-year-old, she swiftly learned how the computer worked and has already spent hours eagerly watching herself and showing anyone else who will look, now becoming slightly bored by the repetition (and only slightly) so instead demanding that more photos be taken of her to expand the selection available. With my new camera now ordered (the Canon EOS 400D, which here goes by the odd “Digital Rebel” moniker, along with an EF 28-135mm IS lens), this request is unsurprisingly rather likely to be fulfilled.

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