Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eiffel Tower with statue

Marc Olivier 2011 (you can buy this and other Paris prints at
I've been wasting time cloning out a big street lamp and the ugly Tour Montparnasse to make this view just a little better than real life. I'm pretty happy with the results. This was the original:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Paris layered collage

I've been doing some very vintage Paris photos overlaid with old maps, letters, and stamps. All part of my exercise in commercially viable work. My own taste tends to be more modern, but this was fun. I have some plans for more modern, colorful, geometric collage I'd like to try next.  Hey, and maybe during Christmas break I'll do some sort of tutorial.
Marc Olivier 2011

Marc Olivier, 2011

Marc Olivier, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Marc Olivier 2011

I love the materiality of books, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Far from disappearing from our lives, books are being used more and more for things other than reading. In fact, I've devoted a pinboard on Pinterest to that topic.

One of my favorite photographers, Abelardo Morell, has done a stunning series on books. When I took some of my old books off the shelf and photographed them on Saturday, it was very much inspired by him. I like the abstraction of the pages above (the book is a 19th century history of Paris I bought a long time ago in Seattle).

Marc Olivier, 2011
 You can see the same books in this totemic stack topped with an 18th century collection of Rousseau's rantings against theater. The shot was done with natural light. I set the stack of books on a table by the front door for side lighting and then used a light reflector to bounce back some fill, which ended up giving the halo-like glow. The final photo below shows a rip in the last page through which you see the title Lettre à d'Alembert. It was a happy accident to find that little window into the book's contents. I sent about 11 book photos to the company that distributes my work commercially, but I don't know if it will fall within their needs. Four of my dictionary page photo prints are being distributed (although they are not all of the same ones in my post). Going for commercial viability is an interesting exercise and is often not compatible with what you would send to a gallery. In my opinion, the artist who best straddles those two worlds is Michael Kenna. I find his work very inspiring but I don't do landscapes. Yet.

Marc Olivier, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

put a bird on it!

(Marc Olivier, 2011)

I love how phone and power lines divide the sky. Even better when you put a bird on it :)

Queen of Spades

Eva as the Queen of Spades

She wanted this one to be creepy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Queen of Hearts

 Never mention an idea to your kids unless you are actually going to do it.
After reading a post on B about a deck of playing cards he had made through printerstudio, I thought "hey! that would be cool." What if I made a deck of cards with my kids and dog playing all of the royalty?" I was discussing the idea with my wife and as soon as I mentioned that maybe it would be too involved because we'd have to have them dress up in various costumes, Eva heard "dress up" and "costumes" and that was it. Sunday afternoon she decided we would do the queen of hearts and picked out a dress from her dress-up box. We took the photo in the bathroom, which actually has white and yellow stripes, but Eva wanted them to be pink. So we went into the man cave and watched "Barbie: A Fashion Fairy Tale" (featuring a song with the injunction to "Get your sparkle on." We also learned that "when you're in doubt, glitter it out." Words to live by.) while I retouched the photo. Next up will be the queen of diamonds. The tricky part is to do the photos with whatever we have on hand. I don't have the budget to do a Philip Lorca diCorcia or an Erwin Olaf production.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another "fair use" video and some thoughts

I saw this video posted on the copyright litigation blog and thought I'd share it:

I know I've posted about copyright before, but I think that the erosion of fair use is even more of a problem today than copyright violation.

Photographers worry a lot about people stealing their photos, and of course, that does happen all the time. Back when I was naïve enough to give clients unencrypted proof CDs (with low-res jpegs) it didn't take long for me to realize that people were printing out the crappy low-res unretouched files instead of ordering nice prints. More recently, I've moved toward a "free downloads" policy (and a price increase is coming soon) on weddings/portraits, but only print orders get full retouching. For commercial work, I let the people who represent me worry about it (they have more of a financial stake in it than I do).

As someone who loves street photography, I worry that the erosion of fair use makes daily life a legal minefield. Sure, it may be fair game (for now) to photograph people in public spaces, but what about logos, statues, art, etc.? Court cases are constantly redefining what you can and can't do. I can't keep up with all those cases, but I have noticed that fair use is under attack. Even libraries are being treated like enemies (read: "file sharers"). The common argument against fair use is the "copycat" attack, that is, people will be forced to be more creative if they can't copy. I think the above video makes a good case for fair use copying as an important part of cultural production.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Moo cards promo + a random cow video

I don't do ads on my blog, but I had to send some love to because I love their products. I bought a few hundred minicards (as in the pic at top—via Moo, not mine) when I first started my blog. I like that you can have different photo on every single card if you want. I chose about 30 different photos and carried cards on my key chain (in a little case they sell) to give to people. It always fun to pull out several different photos and let someone choose which one they like best. I was pimping my blog like nobody's business back in the day when my friend Corry and I were playing google analytics risk. The idea was to try to get the most hits possible and the moo minicards gave me an extra edge. I still haven't conquered the world (thanks a lot, sub-Saharan Africa and Greenland), but Corry has admitted defeat.

Now here's the dumb thing: I have never used Moo cards (mini or regular business size) to promote my business. I'm really good at promoting things that don't earn me a cent, but not so great at self-promo. I soon plan to change that, however, by upgrading my business cards to moo.

Imagine putting different styles of photography (art, wedding, engagement, portrait, etc.) on different cards and handing the appropriate card to the potential client. Way more effective than just a plain old white card with a url, right? So, that's my plan. The other part of my plan: do this promo that gets you a 10% discount and gets me some kind of credit (I'm honestly not sure how much). A win-win.

enough promo. and now for a random cow video:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reading and photography

"It was Tod Papageorge who said “If your pictures are not good enough, you aren’t reading enough.” (ref. via) That’s not what photographers like to hear, is it? They’ve just got used to the fact that they have to spend a lot of time on “social networking” and PR (something that clearly is taking away a lot of time from photography), and now they’re supposed to read? What’s that all about? But maybe writing has more in common with photography than one might think."
Nice post on Conscientious. Read More....

Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Errol Morris: Believing Is Seeing (part 1)

This is not a book review. It's more of a way to collect some notes.
I have long been a fan of Errol Morris and his films, so when I saw that he had a book about photography coming out, I immediately ordered it. If you've seen any of Morris' documentaries then you already know that he can tell a story. He sets up his book as a series of mysteries—a great way to draw in the reader. His first mystery: a chicken/egg story about two photos by one of the first ever war photographers, Roger Fenton. One of the photos shows a road in the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" with a ditch strewn with cannonballs:
The other photo—the one that became famous—has cannonballs littering the road itself:
(photos via Wikipedia)

The latter photo has more drama, but the authenticity of the scene has been put into question by various curators/scholars. The "authentic" photo would be the one that has not been staged (assuming, as many have, that one was staged). I admit that when I saw the winners of the 2011 International Awards, I wondered if any of the photos had been staged. When a colleague of mine saw my "angel of repose" photo (in my last post) the first thing he said is that it looked posed, which I take as a sort of compliment, in the same way we say that a plant or a piece of fruit is so perfect it looks fake.  In Fenton's case, the "it looks posed" claim was not a compliment, but an accusation. An attack on the man's character meant to raise skepticism or elicit debate about documentary photography and its claim to truth. Everyone loves a good scandal. Imagine Susan Sontag pouncing on the idea that Fenton had asked an assistant to scatter cannonballs about for the sake of drama. It makes a good anecdote and a great jumping off point for a polemical work about photography.

Morris read Sontag's assertion that Fenton had staged the photo, but unlike most readers, he stopped to question her sources. Literally. Yes, literally. He actually followed the trail from an acknowledgment (no footnotes chez Sontag. must be nice not to be burdened by documentation) and interviewed the guy. Then he interviewed another. And another. And another. Morris is a model of intellectual curiosity. He shows us his process, he lets us follows his leads, he transcribes his interviews, and he sleuths his way to the Valley of the Shadow of Death to look for answers first hand. The pleasure of a good mystery is in the process, which explains why whodunnit detectives like to narrate each step of the way. In the case of "detective" Morris, this means we get to hear about the high heels of his tour guide, about JFK watching Roman Holiday during the Cuban missile crisis, and that we get to hear him drift off into reflections such as:
War is such a peculiar thing—inaugurated by the whims of a few, affecting the fate of many. It is a difficult,  if not impossible, thing to understand, yet we feel compelled to describe it as though it has meaning—even virtue. It starts for reasons often hopelessly obscure, meanders on, then stops. (30)
Another great quote:
We want to know where we end and the world begins. We want to know where that line is. It's the deepest problem of epistemology. (37)
 Another thing I learn from following Morris' process is his method of interviewing people. When he talks with a forensic photography specialist who mentions the "CSI effect" and says "I'm sure you know what that is," Morris doesn't say "Oh, yeah of course I do. Haven't you seen my films?" He just responds, "Tell me." By suppressing his ego Morris gets more information.

more to come.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Street Stories

Since the photos are already up online at the Kiernan Gallery, I thought I'd post the three of mine that were accepted and tell you the stories behind the photos.

 "Field Trip" (click on any of the photos to see them larger)

I was wandering around Place de la Nation and noticed a group of school kids on a field trip. Their teacher tried to give them a history lesson, but the kids were more interested in the graffiti that had been scrawled all over the statues. For me, this story reads on at least two levels, depending on how much information you have. The first level is about the interplay between the boys and the cherub. It treats budding adolescent humor, curiosity, phallocentrism (if you want to get deeper). The second level would require a closer shot and a knowledge of French politics. The graffiti on the poor cherub's privates reads "la bite de Sarkozy" (Sarkozy's...). One of Sarkozy's notorious remarks when he was campaigning to be President was that the suburbs (in France suburbs has the connotation that might be given to inner city in the U.S.) should be washing with bleach. That kind of callous, racist statement did nothing to help mend the gap between the bourgeois elite and the disenfranchised, unemployed youth of the suburban projects. The statue pictured is called the "Triumph of the Republic" in honor of the French Revolution. Today, Arab (especially Algerian), and to a lesser degree, West African second or third generation immigrants are often treated as second-class citizens (or, "third estate" I should say). In that light, the photo resonates on a more political level.


I was walking around the Saint Sulpice Church (which tourists never visited until the Da Vinci Code), when I saw some girls at the side of the church doing photos in a swimming suit and a headscarf. They looked like students doing an art project. They were most likely of Moroccan or Algerian origin and the headscarf (which initially she had covering her face) with swimming suit shoot in front of a Catholic church was clearly meant (or so I assumed) as an artistic statement. They made their way to the front of the church and I followed them. I stood at the side by the church entrance where a beggar woman sat waiting for passers-by to put change in her empty Starbucks cup.  I snapped a couple of photos and exchanged a smile with the woman as she looked at the camera. Then I put some money in her cup and she commented on the shoot going on behind her. "Elle est belle, n'est-ce pas?" (She's beautiful, isn't she?). This was the last thing I expected to hear from a woman with such apparent dedication to modesty. I titled the photo "Starbucks" to draw attention to the corporate logo on the cup, which for me, brings questions of capitalism and consumerism into the story of class, gender, culture.

"Angel of Repose"

I snapped this in the metro, all too aware of the disapproving gaze of the people around me. Or maybe that was just my fear of being exploitative. As a rule, I try not to take photos that mock people. In street photography, it's easy to make people look bad. But the French humanist photographers I admire (like Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson) never treated their subjects with disdain, so my aim is to keep things in the humanist tradition. Despite my initial hesitation, I realized that the target of the photo is not the man but the ad campaign, or rather, the stark contrast between the real conditions of poverty and the carefree images conjured up by a large and expensive department store. In other words, if anyone comes out looking bad, it's the people who don't have to sleep underground. On a technical level, the photo was very dark and needed noise reduction and exposure adjustments in processing. One difficult decision was how much to correct the white balance. The metro light is dark and yellow, so I decided to leave in some of that color cast when I did adjustments.

The first and third of the above photos were accepted for the online show and the "Starbucks" photo was one of the 30 accepted for the gallery. You can see all of the photos on the Kiernan Gallery's website.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Epic Fail Update

If you've been following my "epic fail" project then you know that I had decided to take the attitude that you need to rack up a lot of failures in order to have success. If you're too fixated on the success part, you can get easily discouraged. If you take the "Edison tried over 3,000 [or was it 10,000? or was it 100?] different substances in making the filament of an incandescent light bulb" approach, then you have to figure that part of success is based on your willingness to fail again and again.

I don't think I can afford 3,000 attempts at contests since they usually cost about $25 in entry fees, so I have to be selective. Since my biggest passion is street photography, I decided to submit to the Kiernan Gallery's "Street Stories" competition. I submitted 5 photos. If I checked my email more frequently then I would have noticed the following email 2 days ago:

Congratulations on being accepted to Street Stories! Thank you for sharing your art with The Kiernan Gallery. The exhibition Street Stories received 312 photographs in submissions. Juror Debbie Hagan selected 30 images for display in the main gallery in Lexington, Virginia, and another 40 images for display in the online gallery. All selected work will be reproduced in an exhibition catalogue available for purchase from Blurb Books.

We are very pleased to inform you that Debbie Hagan selected your work for both the main gallery exhibition AND the online gallery.
Needless to say, I'm pretty happy with the failure to fail. For etiquette reasons, I think I had better wait until the exhibition is up before post my entries (and the 3 of 5 that were selected) here. For now, let me just point you to the pinboard on Pinterest where I put possible contests to enter. I update it constantly, so check it out if you are so inclined.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Watch This: Bill Cunningham New York

If you're not one of the million or so Netflix users that got so angry with their recent price hikes and other stupid business moves that you cancelled, then you can stream the wonderful documentary "Bill Cunningham, New York" by Richard Press. I'm watching it right now and loving it so much that I couldn't wait to post. It's so nice to be reminded that the best photographers usually aren't full of the vain artistic pretense that plagues so much of the art world. What an amazing character! His commitment to his work, his courage, his sense of humanity is exemplary. I don't tend to pay attention to fashion photography, but street photography is my favorite genre. Cunningham represents a hybrid of the two, and in the best possible way. He has the sense of humor and the kindness of the French humanist photographers and a democratic sort of fashion sense that comes from careful observation of the street. I love that he hates "in/out" lists because he finds all self expression valid. A quote by Bill:
"It's not photography. I mean, any real photographer would say 'He's a fraud!' Well, they're right. I'm just about capturing what I see, and documenting what I see."
Sounds like something Eugene Atget might have said. His quirkiness also reminds me of and William Eggleston. I could go on, but it's distracting me from the movie.

Trust me, if you like fashion and/or street photography, you'll love this movie.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Here's to the great one

My first computer was a Mac.
My dissertation included an epilogue about the iMac campaign.
Between my office and home there are no less than 6 Apple computers (although one is a laptop with a broken screen sitting in a drawer and another is our still-working 2nd generation iMac in the boys' room).
I bought a 1st gen iPod the minute they came out (and lost it in a burglary less than 6 months later).
I finally dumped my crappy flip phone when the iPhone 4 came out.
I stayed up to place my iPad2 order the very second they went on sale.
Every member of my family (except my 6 year-old) has an iPod of some kind.
So, basically, Steve Jobs has been/is a big part of my life.
It was sad to hear of his passing, but nice to know that he went out on top and made such a difference.
Here's to Steve.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

QR code Photoshop tutorial

As a quick follow-up to my QR code post, I will go over the basics for manipulating QR code in Photoshop.

1. Generate the code.
Go to a QR code generator such as Kaywa. There, you will be able to select text, URL, telephone number, or SMS and then select the size (choose XL) of the code. Click "Generate" and you'll have a code embedded with whatever you entered.
2. Save your image.
Right-click your image and give it a name. You will now have a .png file that is not quite ready to work with. Open it in Photoshop and we'll fix that.

3. With your image opened in Photoshop, the first thing you will need to do is change the color mode. It will be set to "Indexed Color," but you need to change it to "RGB color" or you won't be able to do fun things with it.

4. Resize as needed. If you already know the approximate size you want, then you can go to Image—Image Size and adjust. If not, you can always transform it later. Here, I resized to 5x5 inches at 300 dpi. If you haven't already unlocked your background layer (double click it and hit return), then do so now.
5. Now, assuming you want to alter the image, I would suggest selecting the black and copying it. To do this, just use the Select--Color Range from the menu, and click on the black. If something strange happens (like, say, suddenly you are getting shades of gray, then just click the eyedropper with the + and click around until you have selected everything. You can also play with the fuzziness slider.
Once you have it selected (dancing ants around all the black parts)...
then you are ready to copy and paste the code onto the photo of your choice.

6. Here's where you have to decide why in the world you want to stick QR code in a photo in the first place. Well, a few suggestions might be:
  • just to customize the QR code that will use somewhere else, like on a business card or a mailer.
  • you could make a bunch of QR code boxes into a frame around a black and white portrait and have each one give information, like cute quotes from your kid.
  • you could make a more artistic card to send to a friend with your phone number embedded in the code to say "call me"
  • you could do some sort of complex photo mosaic with links to info on the web
  • you design a product (like the pillows in my previous post, or a quilt or cross stitch or whatever)
  • you could do some artsy installation piece about the loss of privacy and add QR codes to Google map photos embedded with all the information. Since we're generating things, why not generate a bogus "artist's statement." Try it. It's pretty funny. Anyway, whatever...
So, I am not feeling particularly inspired. Since my code looks like a hedge maze, I'm going to put it on top of a French garden. (I have copied and am now pasting onto my photo):
At this point, I have a background photo and a layer of black QR with no background. I'm going to do a clipping mask (which I taught you to do way back in 2008, so look at this post if you need help).

7. If you want to do something with a clipping mask, duplicate your background photo, sandwich your QR code layer between the background and the duplicate background layer by dragging the QR layer between the other two. With the top (photo layer) active, simply place you cursor in between the top layer and the QR layer while holding down the option (or alt) key until you see two intersecting circles. Click when those little circles appear you've got a clipping mask (see the arrow pointing down).
 Now turn off the background layer to see the clipped effect:
Strange, eh?

8. Hmm. Now what? Well, maybe add a background color by creating a new layer below the QR one and using the paint bucket tool to fill it? I'll just use white, because you want fairly high contrast if possible:
 Or maybe stick my logo in the middle of this pointless creation? I'm doing that to show you that there can sometimes be as much as 30% tolerance for error and your phone can still read it.

You can experiment with blending modes, with different colors, anything.
Could this actually be useful? Maybe. I still think that QR can make a good modern pillow, but I'd have to find something I really like before slapping it on my business card. If I come up with something cool, I'll post it. And if you do, send me a link.  Until then, my fling with QR code is over.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fun with QR code

I've been playing around with QR (i.e. "quick response") code lately. You know, those little black and white patterned boxes that you are supposed to scan with your smartphone in order to get more info, go to a website or whatever. I started to imagine how you might embed QR code into home life. The first thing to come to mind was how cool it would be to have some modern pillows that had embedded information. Your décor could speak to your guests even more than it does now.

Now, I'm not about to appliqué a real pillow just to try it out, so I did some photoshop mockups:

This one says "Home Sweet Home." If you have a smartphone with a reader (I use Scan), you just have to scan it and the hidden message appears as text on your phone. Try it.

Here's another:
That one says "Be awesome today!"

If you were so inclined, you could take a traditional craft and update it with code. Cross-stitch or embroider a quote, for example:

"Women who make a house a home make a far greater contribution to society than those who command large armies or stand at the head of impressive corporations. —Gordon B. Hinckley.

Yep. It says all that.

Or how about an Amish quilt?

"Before Prozac, there was quilting"

But what does all of this have to do with photos? 
Check out this amazing QR code portrait that embeds 9 years of a radio show (or rather, links to all of the episodes) into a giant mosaic. I'm not sure I would take on a project that ambitious, but I can imagine having regular photos with additional info embedded, or just the QR codes as links to entire albums online. Here is my ABC Paris collection:

 In a few days, I will post a tutorial on how to manipulate QR codes in ways that link them to photography.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Basics of the Photoshop Text Toolbar/ Character window

This is not a tutorial that is going to throw around terms like "ligature" and "kerning" and "tracking" and so on. For those kind of typography basics you can read elsewhere. My purpose is simply to make you aware of the existence of the character window and to show you that working with type in Photoshop is not as complicated as you might think.

So for the sake of demonstration, I took this photo of my daughter's stuffed dog (who apparently can't rest without a sleeping mask)...

and then I took a random "sleep"-related quote (by William Blake, I think) to use as text. I have pretty ambivalent feelings about the result, but it does show that you can manipulate text in a lot of ways without even creating a bunch of different text layers.

There is a good chance that you don't have the handy little "character" window visible, so first you will need to make sure it is selected from the window menu:
Now you will see all kinds of options that will help you work with text. Here, I have highlighted just a few (I warned you about the lack of official terminology):
So we're ready to type something and play around with those settings. First, hit "T" to get the text tool. Then, click and drag (as opposed to just clicking) to create a text box that will help contain your text. Whenever your text box is active you can drag the handles to resize it.

The first thing I do is simply enter the text in a size you can read. Don't worry about formatting yet:

When you start adjusting words, remember that you are free to change individual words within the group without creating separate text layers for each word. Just highlight whatever word (or letter or group of words) you want to change, and then adjust the settings for your highlighted selection in the character window.

I decided to highlight "Think" and increase the font size.

(Note: You aren't stuck with 72 pt as your highest setting. You can type any number at all in the box)
Then I did the same for the other imperatives and also added a return at the end of each sentence.

At this point, I know I will want to make more changes (colors, fonts, etc.)  I know that the automatic spacing between those returns is not to my liking, so I can highlight those four lines (I could just as easily do two or three) and make adjustments. Make sure you highlight what you want to change first:

Now, instead of "auto," I can adjust the settings from the pull-down menu or type in whatever number I want:

Look what happens when I set it at 20 pt:

And here is what 72 pt looks like:

Type in various numbers and you quickly get a feel for the effect.

Not only can you adjust settings of individual letters and words, you can even select and adjust the spaces between words. You really just have to experiment, as I did below:
You can see that I highlighted individual words and changed their color by clicking in the color box in the character window. I also changed fonts and experimented the spacing between lines. You can see, for example, that the "Think/Act" lines and the "eat/sleep" lines are close together, but that I made more space between the two groups. All of these changes were made within a single text box, just by messing with the settings in the character window:

You can see in the layers shot above that I added a white layer as the background and then decreased the opacity of the photo layer to 35% so the image wouldn't compete too much with the text. Then, above that layer is the text, and finally, the curves layer was just an afterthought. Final result? meh. whatever. I'm not sure that quote even makes sense to me. Mine would be more like "Be groggy in the morning. Eat in the noon. Eat again in the evening. Stay up way too late writing blog posts at night."

There are all sorts of cringe-worthy errors that I'm sure you typographers are noticing (but seriously, if you're a typographer, why would you still be reading this?), but hopefully my little tutorial has helped demystify that character window.