Archive for February, 2009

The art of photography

What does it mean to be a photographer rather than taking snapshots?

Photography is a hobby of mine that is surrounded in some mixed up feelings.  I remember being in a club at high school and developing my own photos – it was really enjoyable, but I didn’t pursue it much because I have so many interests.  Later on, my cousin went to college and grad school for photography, and now teaches it out in California.  I have always had huge respect for her creativity and quirkiness – but especially during the college years, family frowned upon her going to art school, switching schools, pursuing further degrees.  I was the “good” one, going to one college, one major, graduating and getting a job in a good field.  (Forget the fact that by that point I didn’t want do that, but once started, I finished it.)  Photography was “her” thing, and I wanted her to have that spotlight.

Me and Jack, C-Print, 20x24" 2005 by Diane Meyer. (Totally posting without asking permission first, which I normally would do, but that's what family is for right?? :D)

Me and Jack, C-Print, 20x24" 2005 by Diane Meyer. (Totally posting without asking permission first, which I normally would do, but that's what family is for right?? :D)

Since then, growing older and wiser, and having one great drunk night with her where we were honest about those family dynamics and what we each secretly thought while growing up, I’ve accepted that I can pursue it as a hobby with no threat to her art.  After all, I am not trained in it or teaching it, and we’ll always have our individual view on the world.  Plenty of room for everyone and all that jazz.

I think the next thing that affected how I saw photography was actually Burning Man.  At this point I didn’t have a fancy camera, although I’d upgraded often (35 mm to the Kodak Advantix APS with panoramic prints to digital) and always tried to have a creative eye in snapshots, I never set out to improve my picture taking.  At my first Burning Man in 2005, I decided to go with disposable cameras rather than risk mine, and shot about 10 rolls.  Most of the photos were disappointing in quality, and they did serve as reminders but I preferred looking at the semi-professional shots by others.

It was also there that I truly felt the difference between experiencing an event through the lens or without it.  My second year (2007) I took a few disposables but only filled two and one was mostly a specific project.

Debates on Burning Man forums would often call photographers spectators.  Granted this was usually in relation to those who gawked and took photos of topless women during the Critical Tits bike ride.  I still stand by the fact that photography is an art, and IS a way to contribute to the community – though I doubt the gawkers contribute anything desirable.  While I’ve never considered myself a pro of any sort, I do feel that my photography is an artistic expression and not just spectating.

But at what point does someone cross this line?  In 2007, I went with a friend to participate in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.  And for the first time, I felt how photographers can truly be invasive, regardless of how pure their motives.  My friend and I are burners, so we felt no hesitation in being IN the parade, not watching it.

As we arrived early in the staging area, with an acquaintance of hers who was topless under a lace cloak (pictured above before taking off her bikini top), we were surrounded by paparazzi (that’s the only way I can describe it) who snapped away – some asking us to pose, some not.  (The majority of photographers at burn events are respectful of asking permission first.)  We did our best to escape and returned to the staging area once most of the participants had arrived. The photographers were still there but at that point, soley focused on those showing the most skin.

I’m not denying that there are beautiful photos/art out there of this event.  I have seen them before and after.  But it was the first time I was ever overwhelmed with being photographed and had a hint of what celebrities must go through on a larger scale.  It got to the point that I rarely brought out my camera, didn’t want to ask anyone to pose for my photo, because they obviously had been through enough of that.

I’ve always strived to be unobtrusive with photos – turning all sound on the camera off during quiet concerts, shielding or turning off the LCD screen so I’m not blinding or distracting those behind me.  But since that parade, I associate large groups of photographers as predators of a kind, regardless of their intentions.

Now, I have a digital SLR and I’ve actually been trying to use it more and improve my skills.  I enjoy taking photos, but I still fear being a nuisance – I was dismayed when after a recent concert I realized how loud this camera shutter can be, and it can’t be silenced.  I don’t want to be “that” person who ruins a show for everyone around them.

Last weekend I took photos of the fashion show at Wicked Faire.  I went up and took them from the front corner of the stage, while other photographers sat/kneeled directly in front of the stage.  After the intermission I joined them on the floor but deferred to them as they held the position before I arrived, and in my mind they had better equipment therefore were more “serious” than I.  And something about it just felt wrong.  I don’t know what.

I know that there are a few shots I’m really proud of and that I love.  I know I did my best to not block anyone’s view, and I had as much right to be there as anyone.  But whether it’s because I don’t feel I’d be taken seriously, or that I would be viewed as a spectator, there’s a nagging feeling there.

I’ve been craving feedback/praise on my flickr, but it’s hard to ask to be taken seriously for some shots when others were taken with my boyfriend’s point-and-shoot on a drunken night.  I could separate accounts, but people know me under one name and I wish to keep it that way.  I do think I’ll separate the collection of my favorites into favorite snapshots and favorite artsy pics at the very least.

There’s no real point to this entry – just rambling and trying to work out my thoughts for myself.  I suppose I see photographers falling into two categories, and I’m afraid of being thought of as the “wrong” one.  I don’t like being one of many, maybe it’s just the rebel in me, but I’d rather find something else to shoot than what everyone else is shooting.

While I got some decent shots of that fashion show, photos by others look almost the same, only slightly more consistent due to experience/equipment/luck/editing.  (I was in a rush and uploaded them all, I usually weed out the “rejects”.)  With digital cameras improving in quality and coming down in price, seems like everyone on the planet is now an amateur photographer and it’s hard to find my place among them.  And there’s a difference now between being happy with my photos, and being satisfied with the result but disliking the process in some way.

I think that’s what this is coming down to – figuring out what subject matters I like to shoot for myself – regardless of what I like to view as artwork by others.  Trying to find my place in this little world, where I don’t want to be taken as a serious professional as it’s just a hobby, but I don’t want to be considered a spectator taking snapshots, or another wanna-be amateur.  Is there room in this gray area?  Is the answer as simple as just being me and my camera, and taking walks in nature or everyday life rather than special events?  Considering my mixed feelings, do I want to pursue this hobby to the next level?

Food for thought, but for now my thoughts are turning to food and dinner.  Til next time…

Life is just a game

At least this past weekend, it was for many people.

Dreamation took place in the Morristown Hyatt, and my boyfriend (who loves games of all kinds) was thrilled that it was in his new backyard!  It is a game convention run by Double Exposure, Inc., with back-to-back games from Thursday to Sunday.

I’ve learned that my boyfriend is right – every person has a game.  They may not know it, because they just haven’t found it yet.  Do you have a game that you like?  Monopoly, Scrabble, Dungeons and Dragons, Risk, Magic the Gathering, Fluxx, computer games, Xbox or Playstation?  If you’ve heard of it, chances are it was played at this event!

Upon registering, you see large printouts of a grid schedule – divided into role playing games, board games, war games, video/computer games, and more.  Overwhelming as it is, there are so many tables that you are sure to find a spot at one of them and many of the games are open to all skill levels.  The dealers room had vendors selling many of the games played at the event and more, if you wanted to take some home.

A steampunk board game shocks this player

A steampunk board game shocks this player

For the afternoon, my boyfriend and his friend signed up for one of the war games called “Zombie Outbreak Level 3”.  I had to run out briefly in the middle of the game period, so I didn’t sign up to play, but was able to help play the role of the zombies while I was there.  Several large tables were pushed together with a city layout of streets, buildings, cars, and wreckage of a post-zombie attack world.  While the rules were roughly based on other war games, this was the custom creation of the game master (GM).

Upon each players turn, they have a number of actions their group of humans (military, gangs, or civilians) would take to outrun or outfight the zombies.  The zombies themselves have a turn as well, advancing on the humans as they search for brains to eat.

Military trying to hold their position against the zombies

Military trying to hold their position against the zombies

The winner is the first one to get their human team (or remnants of their team) in a vehicle and out of the city.  Four hours later and several teams successfully escaped, although my boyfriend’s gang was killed off.  I had never played a war game before but it was entertaining and many times played out like scenes in a movie.

We had a quick dinner break while we made evening plans.  Our other friends decided to play Blokus (a team based board game similar to Tetris) then enter the poker championship, where one came in 15th place.  The rest of us decided to play a live action role playing game, or LARP, about vampires.

I should explain that my boyfriend has played LARPs for years, though not the specific one we played that night.  He’s been trying to get me to try it, and it seemed like a good time to test it out.  I was thankful for my Burning Man costume collection, as once we decided to play it took a half hour to come up with three costumes for our vampire personas.

I felt like I was being thrown in the deep end of the pool and didn’t know how to swim – we worked up character backgrounds (I was a 1920’s flapper named Rose, turned vampire and currently an artist/fashion designer.  He was a Chicago mob boss and the one who “turned” me.  His friend played a psychotic schitzophrenic vampire who gave everyone the willies.)  From there on out, it was like walking into a play where you know your character, and the situation, but there is no script.

They were easy going enough on beginners and I learned quickly that you can ask pretty much anything during the game, but if you are “out of character” you put your hand on top of your head so others know whether it’s you or your character speaking at any time.

Several of the organizers/key players were excellent, taking this beyond watching theatre and beyond murder mystery parties to try to immerse you in the action.  I was never one for creative spontaneous action, so I tried to play my character but took comfort in following the leads of my boyfriend as our characters would have acted similarly.  We wandered around the hotel, which became a trip to the underworld where we tried to battle/bring back a spirit slave.  Battles are fought with your characters skill points in various areas and drawing a playing card – adding certain points to the card value gave you the “strength” of the move or hit, and your opponent had a chance to dodge or fight back.

The final battle of the night was against two creatures who are the kind of thing that scare even vampires.  Much of the story line was told in descriptive words rather than actually being presented to you, and as we battled the two creatures in a conference room the GM described mystical energy lines, disappearing and reappearing extra limbs, and the effect of our attacks against the creatures.

The one thing about LARPing is time goes at a different pace.  While we often were sitting and talking in a virtual vampire conference in real time, a battle that takes a few minutes actually plays out over an hour or so as points are totalled and cards are drawn.  I didn’t expect to have energy to make it to the end but wanted to see it out, and struggled to wrap my brain around the points/hits in battle at a bleary 4 am in the morning.

In the end, the vampires won (which is good), the warring factions of vampires came together for a brief truce to face the common danger, but one never knows what will happen next.

We were all a bit bleary here at 4:30 am after playing.  Though, we were vampires so lets just blame the impending sunrise for our exhaustion...

We were all a bit bleary here at 4:30 am after playing. Though, we were vampires so let's just blame the impending sunrise for our exhaustion... I'm in the red wig.

Whether any of these events fit your fancy, or you are loyal to an old school board game, it’s definitely worth checking out.  Double Exposure runs two large events a year, and Dexcon 12 will take place July 8-12, 2009 again at the Morristown Hyatt.

(I have some more photos to upload tonight, will add a link here when I do.)

It started with a simple concept.  An indoor renaissance faire in the winter, in NJ.  Not a tourist trap for families, but geared to the audience who is counting the days until the spring and the larger faires of summer, and call it Jeff Mach’s Wicked Winter Renaissance Faire.  It grew from that into a very diverse event featuring ninjas, pirates, steampunk, almost anything you can think of will fit into this alternate universe.

The official theme for this year’s Wicked Faire event was “The Wicked Chocolate Factory” and added a sweet layer to the event.  The faire was held at the Hanover Marriott this past weekend, and I attended Friday night as I enjoy the shopping opportunities and seeing some great costumes.

A mime and a hooper entertaining faire arrivals

Steampunk fashion is growing in popularity and was prevalant this year, with many scheduled events including an amazing fashion show.  If you haven’t heard of steampunk, you may recognize it when you see it.  Think of it as victorian science fiction – steam powered machinery taken into the future, ala H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

We arrived at the event and started wandering among the vendors – familiar faces and new ones sold leather goods, costuming, jewelry, and more.  By the time we reached the main ballroom, people were gathering for the steampunk fashion show to start, but looking around at the audience was just as much of a show.

This faire was a little more Victorian than Medieval

This faire was a little more Victorian than Medieval! A guest waiting for the fashion show to start

However the fashion show did not disappoint.  Men and women dressed in intricate outfits walked the catwalk (or stage) with grace and professionalism as fans and photographers looked on.  It was worth the longer than usual intermission, understandable when you saw how complicated some of the outfits could be.

One of many fabulous outfits on display

One of many fabulous outfits on display

This Little Red Riding Hood doesnt look like shes scared of any wolves!

This Little Red Riding Hood doesn't look like she's scared of any wolves!

For more amazing photos, check out the Wicked Faire photo pool on Flickr here.  (My photos are only partially loaded online, but I’ll be adding all of them to the photo pool this evening.)

Ghostbusters provided security, and enjoyed a little shopping as well.

Ghostbusters provided security, and enjoyed a little shopping as well.

After the show ended, we finished exploring the vendors on the main floor and upper floor conference rooms.  Living up to the “Wicked” part of the name, the adult vendor rooms checked ID’s at the door before perusing costuming and accoutrements of a more wicked nature – the only children at this event are grown ones.  However, there certainly is a little something for everyone with the variety of interests and hand crafted wares.

Our wallets much lighter, we decided to head home rather than stay for the headlining events – performance by Voltaire, a showing of the movie “Repo: The genetic Opera” with a shadowcast, and many other talented groups.  However, we were not to escape without some chocolate.  Speaking briefly with some fairegoers at the side door, I was suddenly presented with a Golden Ticket!

Golden Tickets! Photo by Sessa

Golden Tickets! Photo by Sessa

We could not skip this amazing opportunity.  We joined Willy and Veruca in an afterparty where yes, you COULD lick the wallpaper (covered in candy buttons!), cupcakes, and enjoy some homemade mead by Long Island Meadery.  I recommend the root beer mead for something truly different, but every variety we tasted was wonderful!

Willy and Veruca - Behave or he'll take away your golden ticket!

Eventually we tore ourselves away from this chocolate fantasy land and headed home.  We had another busy day ahead of us the next day, and you’ll hear about that shortly.

So next February, when the snowy weather is getting you down, make your way to the Wicked Faire for some serious entertainment and sunny spirits!

Molto Rustico Pasta

Molto Rustico Pasta.

I named this myself.

It started with this post on a kitchen/cooking website

A friend in town had a spare rolling pin and gave it to me.

Last night was the night.  I made my own pasta.

It’s actually very easy!  I mixed it up and kneaded it. (The “well” for the eggs spilled over, just a matter of learning how big to make it I guess… My hands were messy but I expected that, and managed to catch the egg from going too far!)

While it rested for a half hour, I chopped some red and yellow bell pepper and cooked them a bit in some olive oil, garlic, onlion, and added some balsamic.  I added this to a jar of sauce (I didn’t have the things on hand to make my own, but it was a nicer/pricier brand. It was a balsamic tomato sauce by Silver Palate.)

Then I rolled out the dough, and had great difficulty making them all the same thickness, width, and length. I think the width and length don’t really matter so much, but thickness does because it changes the cooking time. I threw them in boiling water, after 4/5 minutes, I fished out the thinner pieces, and the thicker ones had a few more minutes to cook.

Some of the pasta was perfect thickness, some were very hearty and reminded me of my grandma’s spaetzles (german noodles, very doughy and dense) or gnocchi…. But you know what? it was all GOOD!!!!!

I have leftovers for lunch today.  I am excited to make it again, and I know now how to make it a bit more even…. when I was rolling it out, it kept wanting to contract once I lifted the rolling pin.  This is where the constant repeats of “use MORE flour” comes in – the flour helps keep it stretched out thinner – my last batch (you divide the dough in quarters and roll one at a time) came out much better than the first few!

This recipe cost me $1.35 for the pasta (eggs and flour and salt).  The jar of sauce, I don’t remember, probably $4-5 as it’s a more “gourmet” type brand.  Two bell peppers.  Parmesan cheese on top, I always have fresh shredded parm cheese in the house.

The recipe made less pasta than a box would have made, but if my rolling skills didn’t have that learning curve, it would have been more pasta than you see in those “fresh” pasta packages in the store.  As it was, we stuffed ourselves last night, and I have lunch today.

I highly recommend trying this at least once! It tastes sooo much better than box pasta, it’s not THAT much work really, (if you have a pasta machine it would be really easy!) and I was waxing poetically about how I felt connected to generations of women who made all their pasta and bread by hand.  (Hey, when a recipe says have a glass of wine while the dough sits, you may get a bit silly :P)

So, because my pasta was such an unusual width/shape (I was going for egg noodle width, but it plumps a lot in cooking!) and varied in thickness, I decided it was molto rustico (very rustic) and pretended that it’s on purpose.  Shhhhh don’t tell anyone ;o)

Catnip Snow

(Gilmore Girls episode “Love and War and Snow”, Season 1)

Lorelai: It was the snow. You know how I get, it’s like catnip.

Snow Angel

Snow Angel, photo by Jen Gray (

Lorelai: Wait, close your eyes and breathe. I smell snow.
Rory: Ah, it’s that time of year.
Lorelai: Can’t you smell it?
Rory: You know, it’s like dogs and high-pitched noises. I think it’s something only you can smell.
(Rory sits down next to Lorelai and pulls a blanket over the both of them)
Lorelai: I love snow.
Rory: Really, I had no idea.
Lorelai: Everything’s magical when it snows, everything looks pretty. The clothes are great. Coats, scarves, gloves, hats.
Rory: Thermal underwear, wool socks, ear flaps.

It’s a perfect snow today.  Fable snow.  Perfectly pretty, easy to clear off the car, the roads were fine.  I saw Jen’s photo that I posted above over the weekend – after a week of bitter cold and ice that was impossible to get rid of, this photo reminded me of the joy of snow.  And today, I’m lucky enough to experience it first hand.  Makes me wish I could go take photos rather than sit in the office!

The snow had me in a wonderful mood today.

I’m trying to stay in that happy moment, but cold harsh reality is pissing me off.  I want to rant about it, but it’s at the point where I can’t even form words to describe how I feel sick in the stomach.  If you are in a good mood and don’t want to read this entry further, I don’t blame you one bit.  So the rest is behind the cut.

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