After the Flood

September 18, 2005

When I lived in LA I would often drive aimlessly around the neighborhood just to hear the end of a This American Life broadcast. Now of course, it's on the web, always available. Listen to After the Flood, last week's show on New Orleans, and you'll know why I never miss an episode. (real audio required)

Early Color Photography

September 17, 2005

Boing Boing has a nice link to early American color photographs from the Great Depression. Most of those images are Kodacolor or Kodachrome (as an aside, check out this page on how to date early Kodachrome slides). I've long been fascinated with early photography from the generation before this, ie from the turn of the century. Most of these are Autochromes, the first widely available color photo process invented by the Lumier Brothers.

This is a pretty good timeline of the development of color photography.

The image below is from WWI for me it shows why Autochromes are compelling... there is just something so tangible and accessible about them versus early black and white or hand colored images.

Some linkage: early Russian photography, early French photography, World War I color photography, & a sampling of Lumiere Studio work. More WWI photos here and here (pages 6-8). This gallery of framed autochromes shows how saturated and "real" they can be.

Autochromes are often available on ebay, just search for Autochrome.

Update: Exhibition at UK's National Media Museum: Autochome- The Dawn of Color

File System Events, OS X

September 16, 2005

Hardcore Mac geeks read on, everyone else: as you were.

Recently I've been tormented by some mysterious preference files that keep showing up in my system folder with jibberish names. Tracking down which app has been writing these files as been difficult. Also my hard disk has been spinning seeming at random when I'm not doing anything. This too was hard to troubleshoot.

FSEventer to the rescue. This little program opens up a graphical display window that shows you every file written to disk (including invisible files) and gives authorship information with a click. Despite the esoteric name it features a friendly interface and is fun to watch (to see it go nuts fire up a browser and hit some MS sites which write a million cookies). I managed to track down both of my mysterious problems in minutes. This is a good little program for your toolbox.


September 16, 2005

My mom's birthday just past. She would have been 60 which is hard to imagine. She was only 45 when she died, 21 when she had me. In my mind she is always young, although always still my mother, the adult. Her voice rings clear in my head and I'm sure it will remain so when I am an old man. The Mexican side of me holds death close.

My grandmother had 10 brothers and sisters, nine of them preceded her in death, and yet she always spoke of them as if they were guests expected at any moment. She would catalog stories of their lives, but would always end by noting their burial places often lamenting the fact that they were not together to more easily talk in the afterlife. From the age of 3 until I was in my 20's at the end of every visit she would whisper, "hug me tight because this is the last time you will see me in this world." She would often press pictures of herself in my hands so that I wouldn't forget "when I am gone."

My mother's pictures, letters, and other small things scattered around the house do not provoke melancholy, but instead remind me how much I have to live up to for my own son. It is a strange bargain knowing that the more we give of ourselves, the more open we are to pain, but the more alive we become.

Octavio Paz, one of my favorite poets writes, "To the inhabitant of New York, Paris, or London death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips. The Mexican, on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, entertains it, it is one of his favourite playthings and his most enduring love."

Photo Notes 2: Photography Advice for Ruby in Minnesota

September 14, 2005

Another photography related email comes from Ruby a junior high school student who asks: "What advice do you have for me so that I can take pictures like yours? I want to post them online."

Hmmm. Well Ruby I think the goal would be not to take pictures like mine or someone else's, but to take pictures that are your own, that show a little bit about how you see the world. For me photography is not about what you choose to shoot, but about what you choose to leave out. And ultimately it's all about emotion. What do you love? Or hate? What things do you see that other people miss? What moves you?

Highly biased advice:

I've been taking pictures most of my life so it's pretty much organic. Know your cameras. Feel comfortable with them. Get to the point where you don't have to think about how to make the camera do what you want it to do.

Tell a story.

I always tell myself to get closer. The closer you get (within reason) the more emotion you will find.

Long lenses are not a substitute for getting closer.

If you are shooting people look your subjects in the eye.

Slow down. Hang out with your subjects. Try waiting 10 minutes before pulling out the camera, or better yet, an hour.

Wait for the light to get better.

One of the silliest comments I see again and again is "nice depth of field" (ironically usually posted when the depth of field is shallow. People have gotten so used to digital cameras with high ISOs that stop down and keep everything in focus that they have forgotten the possibilities of wide aperture photography. Ditto for slow shutters speeds and motion. This said, don't let the wide aperture become a crutch. Just because you've focused on something at f 1.4 doesn't mean it's interesting.

Don't post pictures of cats (dogs are ok, dogs show emotion, but be sparing).

Avoid clichés. Some common clichés: zoo pictures, pictures shot and then modified with stock Photoshop filters, sunsets, flowers (unless your audience is full of horticulturalists nobody cares), abandoned buildings, graffiti, mannequins, people in clown makeup (or some other silly costume), fall foliage, water on glass (usually shot with a wide aperture), random people walking down an anonymous street, people in wacky t-shirts, pretty clouds, silly signs, empty roads, seagulls, swans, ducks, water reflections, couples on the beach.

Just because you shoot with a macro lens/holga/polaroid doesn't make it interesting.

When taking travel photos try to avoid the touristic. What is touristic? If you see a gaggle of tourists shooting in a particular spot, the images taken from there will be touristic. If it should be on a postcard, it's touristic. Photos of "natives" in tribal dress shot with a long lens, usually smiling at the photographer are touristic.

Turn off automatic stuff: auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-whatever. Make some decisions.

Edit. Edit. Edit. (I am horrible at this.)

Shoot black and white now and then.

When I choose a picture to post I ask myself "so what?". If I can't answer that for myself, I figure it's not worth posting.


Have fun.

Photo Notes 1: Camera To Web

September 14, 2005

I've had a 2 or 3 requests recently via comments and email to explain my process from shot to post on my photoblog. It's not complicated:


1. Take picture

2. Use Photoshop's Raw import to select white balance, bump up sharpness, etc. (usually I just use the default settings).

3. Resize in Photoshop

4. Post to Movable Type.


1. Take photo. (Usually w/ Nikon FM2 or FM3 & 24mm lens)

2. Develop negatives.

3. Scan negatives with Nikon Coolscan 5000.

4. Resize & unsharp mask if needed.

5. Post to Movable Type.

In some interior shots I use Photoshop's autocolor to correct for tungsten.

My scanner doesn't deal well with negatives with wide exposure range and the dark part of the photos often come out looking underexposed so in those cases I use Photoshop's "curve's" tool to adjust.

Most of the stuff I've posted recently was shot on film.

Jenn in taxi

September 12, 2005

After a night of hanging out with Jay and listening to The Rivals, a local band whose lead singer is a doctor by day.

It's a beautiful day out.

September 11, 2005

But while wandering around Red Hook with my family and looking out over the water towards Manhattan I remembered it is September 11th. "September 11th" has been so co-opted by our president and his party for crass political gain and war mongering that even the silent mental recitation of the phrase made me feel queasy. But of course it is absurd to allow the petty vainglorious machinations of the current administration interfere with remembrance of what is all of ours to bear.

I was not here in 9/11/2001. I had left town on September 5th on one of my sojourns half a world away. On the eleventh I was in the mountains cut off from all communication. I didn't hear about the attacks until almost a week later, and even then the information was incomplete. It wasn't until I landed in Hong Kong almost a month after the fact and walked into a newsstand in the deserted airport that the full scale of the destruction hit me. The rows of magazines with pictures of the towers, the victims, and the aftermath was shattering... almost incomprehensible, but of course everything was over.

Never did I have to suffer the urgent fear of not knowing what was going to happen next so prevalent on that day. It was much later still that I discovered a friend of mine, Suria Clarke had been working for Cantor Fitzgerald and had perished in the North Tower. She had been in a division of the company known as eSpeed and I didn't know it was connected to Cantor. I tried to contact her on my return to New York and found her phone dead. I had assumed she had moved and that I would hear from her soon. Only after suggesting to a mutual friend that she be a guest at a dinner party did I learn the awful truth.

Suria had a quality one so rarely finds in New York: she was an utterly reliable friend. I could call her late on a Monday night for dinner and she would arrive within the hour in good spirits and with 2 or 3 good stories to tell. She was always up for a movie or drinks or an exploratory walk around an unknown neighborhood. As both a Brit and a new arrival she had sharp eye for the absurdities of this city which she loved dearly. She of all people would be horrified by so much of what has been done in the name of the victims. Any tragedy becomes amplified if you have some connection to it and Suria's loss even more than the holes in the sky made it all hit home for me.

Photos from that day from the nonist.

Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World

September 7, 2005

This show of photos from the Arab world opens tomorrow. I've admired work from several of the featured photographers for years. Should be excellent.

Exhibition opening:
Thursday, September 8, 2005
6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York

9 Months old

September 7, 2005

Lately our baby has started developing strong dislikes of certain things. For example right now he doesn't like to be strapped into seats-any kind of seat: car seats, strollers, high chairs etc. He's a strong little guy and manages to straighten and stiffen his body like a board, hard to bend without a wrestle. Afterwards, once we get him in, fireworks as he protests at the top of his lungs. Or I should write AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. So if you see me or my wife strolling around Brooklyn with a baby going at full volume please don't judge us. It's a phase. Or at least that's what we keep telling ourselves.

Other Raul Andres facts:

-Despite the post above, he's generally a pretty happy little guy. He almost always wakes up with a smile. In the mornings when he's playing on the floor and I'm reading the paper I often hear him chuckling to himself over some private joke.
-He eats virtually everything (including his fair share of paper), except plums.
-Anything with wheels, gears, or levers fascinate, as does my hair.
-He likes to blow into bottles to make noise.
-He makes ululating sounds by moving his hand over his mouth.
-He likes banging things on the table, but doesn't like the banging sound. He hasn't figured out the dissonance yet and keeps banging and then being kind of startled and annoyed.
-His mother is his favorite person in the world, but I can almost always make him laugh.
-His current favorite toy is a small basketball. He's also a fan of rocks.
-He shows no interest in crawling but keep trying to walk.
-His favorite thing to do is to be held upside down by the ankles and taken from room to room.

Olivia Aurora's Watermelon Slush

September 5, 2005

It is midnight in Pennsylvania where we are visiting for the weekend. The crickets and frogs are are out in force and the night is full of stars. I am sitting in the dark with only the computer light and my belly is full of Plum ice cream. My wife and baby are asleep. I hear their overlapping breaths in the next room. They start out the night breathing out of sync, but by this hour are almost in unison. I can't sleep and have been thinking of my grandmother's watermelon slush. As tomorrow is Labor Day I thought I might share the secret recipe. Watch out, it's super delicious.


3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup H20 (room temp)

2 cups liquefied watermelon (de seed before blending... don't skimp with one of those seedless melons, get the real thing. real watermelons have seeds)

1 cup very cold H20
1/4 cup lime juice (small round Mexican key limes are best)

1. Deseed and liquefy watermelon, put aside.

2. Mix 1/2 cup H20 with sugar and boil.

3. Right when the mixture boils add the watermelon, lime juice, and cold H20.

4. Freeze immediately.

5. When frozen. Use an ice scraper or a spoon to scrape out servings.

That's it. Try it, it's so good you'll forget your name.

The Sunday Times

September 3, 2005

Have you ever noticed that some weeks the Sunday Times is chock full of interesting articles while other weeks it is thin. Well this week the paper is a full meal. Read as much news as you can take (this overview of the week's events in New Orleans is particularly helpful in unraveling why things went so awry), then to take a break from reality start with an article about biking across Tanzania, follow that up with some spiritualist photography, and end with a discussion of early Japanese film.


September 3, 2005

It is easy to get worked into a lather over the president's inept (and quite frankly bizarrely disconnected) response to the vast human tragedy taking place in Louisiana and Mississippi (Who did not cringe on hearing him cackle about how he used to enjoy himself partying too much in New Orleans when he was younger while standing on the tarmac of the New Orleans Airport where 30 people died just last night.)... And around the world there seems to be a healthy dose of schadenfreude in the newspaper editorials about the botched response to the disaster. But not all the news is bad...

Today on the New Jersey turnpike we passed scores of New York City police vehicles, generators, communication trucks, and busses in convoy down to New Orleans. Cars on the turnpike pulled into the median, their occupants standing in front of their cars pumping their fists in support or simply clapping. People passing by waved and gave the thumbs up or peace signs. Jenn teared up as we passed each bus. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, another smaller convoy of busses and supplies. On the median there, more people stopping and showing their support. One woman simply standing and crying.

Wong Kar-Wai's 2046

September 3, 2005

This movie has been both praised and damned... as a Wong Kar-Wai worshiper I went in with high expectations.

For me it was a lovely mess, painfully beautiful visually but almost haphazard in it's storytelling. It's really a collection of short stories held together more by the mood than narrative. But at some point I just stopped caring about the overall story and just enjoyed drinking in the visual lushness of each scene and the tangible melancholy of each shot. Tony Leung is top notch as usual, but this film belongs to Zhang Ziyi who is heartbreakingly good. Faye Wong & Gong Li's performances seem almost inert by comparison. The problem for me was unlike In the Mood For Love a film whose melancholy added up to an emotional punch, 2046 left me thinking about the actual filmmaking... admiring the sets, wardrobe & photography, wishing the writing had been sharper, and wondering how I would have re-organized the film to make it add up to something that didn't break my suspension of disbelief.

Magazine Street, 1985

August 31, 2005

My first girlfriend was a Louisiana girl, a Cajun. We would rendezvous in New Orleans. This was way back in high school and in order to make the long drive from Texas and justify my absence I would always have to tell a bucket of lies. I liked the journey though and would always go with the windows rolled down and lots of tapes in the truck. Her family hated me. My family had no idea. We both knew the relationship was doomed which of course made the whole thing almost impossibly bittersweet in the way teenage romances often are.

That was all a long time ago and most of the details are soft and faded like polaroid left in the sun, but something she said to me way back then always stuck in my head. It was a hot and humid August night and the air was full of crickets and frogs. We were on Magazine Street sitting on the stoop of a friends house and I was talking nonsense as usual. I was going on about the city being below sea level and the pumps that kept the city dry and the Army Corps of Engineers. I had read in a book that the Mississippi in it's natural state moves like snake sliding across wet grass but that the engineers had straightened it all out which made the river keep rising. At some point I noticed she wasn't listening and was staring into the middle distance. "What's wrong?" I asked. And then she began crying. "This whole damn city is an illusion," she said softly. "It's like Jerico or Tyre or Babylon, one day all of it, and I mean all of it, will all be gone." She talked like that, the way real Cajuns do. In the years since I've only been back to the city a handful of times, and we lost touch years ago, but when looking up at the hulls of boats passing by from the bottom of a Mississippi levee her words always came back to me... and now of course it's all come true.


August 27, 2005

Most new parents I know will tell you that their number one issue during the first year of their kid's life is sleep. My wife is obsessed. She has a small library of books and a deep nuanced understanding of our babies sleep patterns. Usually when she hands me a book or article to read I sort of glaze over, but this piece originally in the New Yorker hit the spot. It helps that his experience mirrors ours and that we have landed in his camp.


August 25, 2005

My photoblog is up and running again... expect daily updates from my Kham/Amdo work for a while.

I've been sleepy... caught in the nether-world of jetlag and babytime.

Recipe for a Sad Me

August 20, 2005

1. Buy clean clothes for flights home.
2. Arrive early for flight from Chengdu to Beijing.
3. Delay flight 2 hours. Force me to check bag.
4. Have flight arrive in Beijing late but not so late that a connection is impossible.
5. Have airline lose bag that they forced me to check.
6. Find bag and run to opposite side of airport. Break into flop sweat.
7. Close ticket counter in front of me. Miss flight home to wife and child.
8. Offer a hotel for the night.
9. Make that hotel the China Aiport Garden Hotel located in the "Aiport Industrial Zone."
10. Put a "sanitized" paper strip over the toilet in said hotel. Open the toilet to find it not only not sanitized but freshly used and unflushed.
11. Have the only English language magazines in the lobby be: China Eastern Aviation Monthly, May edition, Cat Fancy (Christmas 2004 edition... especially hateful given my anti-cat status), and Military Miniature Collector (June 2005). All obviously detritus from previous lost souls.
12. Have the only restaurant around be Nurburg-King Coffee (offering neither burgers nor coffee).
13. Arrive back from Nurburg-King Coffee to find an Australian named Lazy Fred poking through my bags. "Just being a bit nosey mate, we're bunking up tonight. Let's get sloshed and tear this place up."
13.5 "Call me Fred. Call me Freddy. Call me Lazy, call me Lazy Fred. Ahh I don't give a fuck."
14. Lazy Fred's disregard for even basic bathroom etiquitte.
15. The fact that planes land so close to my hotel room I can see the passengers in the windows.
16. Dialup, windows 95.
17. Being on standby and having an awful feeling about tomorrow.
Note to others in a similar situation. If you need to jump to the top of the standby list:
1. Say your wife is pregnant.
2. Say your wife is due any minute.
3. Determine that the ticket lady has a thing for Koreans (note Korean pop star pictures in her cubicle).
4. Say your wife is a Korean actress.
5. List your wife's films: My Long Lost Sister, The Rich Cry Too, and Legend of Yun.
6. Get theatrically teary eyed.
7. Watch the ticket lady move you to the top of the list. "No problem, please say hello to your wife for me."

Chinese underwear

August 19, 2005

A few years ago I was traveling around Yunnan and was robbed of everything except the clothes on my back. While I was living with the police who were looking for the robbers a policewoman took me out to buy some new clothes. The first order of business...Underwear. Finding my size was difficult, but the police lady was diligent. She finally found a pair that she thought were perfect. Imagine bright red Haynes with a very high waistband (it came over my bellybutton)--the best feature a little pocket with a zipper right over the crotch. The police lady held them in front of me and zipped and unzipped the zipper to demonstrate. Then she smiled and put her finger to her lips... ie it would be my secret. Those were still 2 sizes too small and it was several weeks before I got to a place where I could find boxers to replace them. I don't think I've ever felt dorkier in my life than when I had those things on.

Fast forward a few years, the situation is a little better. You can find boxers or briefs, but the boxers are oddly short. Sort of like short short boxers. And I don't do briefs. Ahhh...the USA land of lovely socks and boxers.


We're in Chengdu. Tomorrow I fly home. Yesterday was the worst day of the trip. We got caught in a truly massive traffic jam. The mountain had collapsed a major section of road. We waited for 6-7 hours. The line of busses and cars stretched as far as the eye could see. And because fate has a sense of humor, I was bitten by a bee a few minutes before the cars started moving again.

More on this and many other things as well as photos when I am back in Brooklyn.

Development is the Absolute Principal

August 15, 2005

That's what billboard reads outside Hongyuan and it's obvious the motto has been taken to heart. Since I was last here only 4 years ago Hongyuan has doubled or tripled in size. The roads have been paved. Modern streelights adorn the streets. Housing blocks now stretch out into the plateau. In a sense Hongyuan has always been a development. For China it is a relatively new city, created out of scratch when the Red Army stopped here to regroup in 1949. The city was not near anything in particular, just an outpost in the middle of the grasslands. It is miserably cold in winter and brutally hot in summer. From the forties to the eighties it was little more than a nomad trading post and army base. In the early 90's when I started visiting the city was probably 85% Tibetan. 10% Hui Muslim. 5% Chinese. It was a rough and tumble place with pool tables lining the streets and one eyed Tibetan prostitutes beckoning passersby from smoky dimly lit rooms. Yaks roamed the streets and there were men with their horses selling dog skins and fresh mares milk. Tibetan midget fortune tellers hung out at the gates of the bus station ready to predict your future. Knock down drag out fights were a regular nighttime activity. Almost all of that is gone now. A Chinese policeman explained to me that the housing blocks were exclusively for Chinese and that the local government provided big incentives to settle here. "The city is 75% Chinese, soon 85%," he told me with obvious pride. There are now ice cream parlors, nail salons, and kids playing basketball, it's a nice town and every day it becomes a little more like everywhere else, but walking down the main street makes me sad. I miss the old Hongyuan.

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