Archive for the 'zen' Category


gearhead and anti-gearhead

As I brace myself for shooting Fringe again (last year, I shot thousands of photos), I find myself surprisingly un-anxious about gear. I’ll be using the same Nikon D40 body I used last year. My primary lens this year will be a plain 50mm f/1.8 Nikon, which doesn’t autofocus on the D40 body. I don’t know if I’ll even use any other lenses. Since last year, I’ve invested in a split-prism focus screen, which makes using a manual lens much easer. I’ll also be bringing along a monopod for stability this time around. No flash, of course.

I’ve considered getting the new Nikon 55-200mm VR (although it’s awfully slow), but if I want some zoom it might make more sense to rent a pro lens. And I’ll bring along the stock kit lens for wider angles (it’s actually very nice). I feel slightly disadvantaged in that I won’t be able to use a long lens on a tripod like a “pro”, but getting in close is part of my technique. Go with your strengths, man.

I don’t really need more gear, or even much want it.  I’ve built my photography style around a sort of modernized Cartier-Bresson approach… small camera, “normal” lens, no flash, get in close and be unobtrusive.  As I’ve written before, I find long lenses for photos of humans make me uncomfortable, socially and politically.  I get good photos of people, especially non-portrait photos, but it requires me being close enough to the subject to get a feel for what they’re feeling.

Let the pros have their pro approach, I guess.  But it doesn’t work for me.


simple is hard!

I recently got my first bicycle in many years.  I started out looking for a road bike, but discovered single speed and fell in lust, then tried fixed gear and fell in love.  This isn’t terribly surprising, given my predilections in other areas.  Fixed gear has great immediacy.  You can’t just coast and stop thinking about what you’re doing – if the bike is moving, the pedals are moving.  And because of this, you need to plan ahead some – slowing for lights so you don’t need to stop completely, building up momentum for hills, etc.

Last night, I told one of my bandmates about my new bike, and the joys of fixed gear riding.  I said “Isn’t it just the kind of bike I’d get?”  And she said, “Yes – as hard as possible!”  To this, I replied “Simple is hard!”  And fixed gear is the simplest kind of bike there is.



Some instruments (or other tools) have “mojo”… there’s something magical about them that makes them play or feel or work better, compared to equivalent instruments.   Sometimes it’s general mojo that works for everyone; sometimes it’s mojo with just one individual.

Many people would argue that there’s nothing magic, that there’s no such thing as mojo, that there’s a scientific explanation for everything unique about an instrument.  Maybe there is.  But who cares?  “Mojo” makes a nice explanation for a real phenomenon – or at least as real as our flawed perceptions.  Those who argue vehemently against “mojo” aren’t arguing against the qualities of a given instrument… they’re arguing against a worldview that they feel is animistic, primitive, and otherwise wrong. 

And I suppose that’s important to them, too.  But once again, it gets back to fear… fear of being ruled by the irrational.



I like manual controls on my tools.  Manual cameras, manual transmissions in cars, footpedals rather than rackmount electric guitar effects, a Unix shell rather than a Windows GUI.  I like interfaces that do what I tell them to do, and don’t do what I don’t tell them to do.  I don’t like machines doing the thinking for me.  I’d rather make my own mistakes. 



Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Obviously, limitations are one of my favorite themes.  But I don’t see “limitations” in a necessarily negative light.  In fact, I see limitations as positives much (most?) of the time.  But here, I’d like to talk about a particular kind of limitation – choices.

It’s easy to become paralyzed by choices, for a number of reasons. First, it can be hard to choose between equal-but-different versions of the same thing. Second, choice can become a distraction, a path for fear of completion to take over our creativity. Third, it can just be added complexity when dealing with already-complex problems, pushing them beyond our ability to handle the big-picture problem. This is often made worse by computer-mediated creative processes like writing, photography, and music recording (to name three of my favorites) – computers provide us with a dazzling array of choices – the ability to undo/redo our work, create alternate versions, process in different ways, etc.

I find it valuable to take away choices when working, unless the choices are really necessary.  If I can work without a computer, I like to do that.  If I must use a computer, I try to do so in a limiting way.  For example, if I’m writing, I like to do at least pre-work with a pen and paper (erasers give us choices, too).  But pen and paper are slow going, and the work often needs to be retyped on a computer later – bad limitations in many cases.  I type far faster than I write, and often want to move my writing to a more complex form.  So I’ll start writing using a simple, formatting-free editor like Notepad or vi.  This takes away unnecessary “choices” like bold or italic.  It helps keep me focused on the words, not how the words are presented.

Choices can also be reduced by improving the raw input so we don’t have to “fix” so much.  I try to be a good technical photographer so I don’t feel an urge to Photoshop the heck out of everything afterward.  I could go farther and stick to b/w film (which does give a lot of choices, but also forces commitment to them once they’re made). If I’m recording music, I like to pre-produce as much as possible so I know well what the finished product should sound like.

This isn’t to say choice is always bad, or computers are bad.  They’re wonderful tools that have opened up new worlds for artists – the fact that you’re reading this on the WWW thanks to WordPress is proof of that.  But it pays to be aware of them, and be conscious of when choice becomes a substitute for creativity, or an impediment.  Don’t be afraid to take away choices from yourself.


Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

(hmm, a weeks since my last post, and I have four incomplete posts sitting in the editor…)

I have a fortune cookie taped to my monitor at work. It says “Tomorrow will be one of the best days you have at work”.  I don’t know whether it’s supposed to be empowering or ironic.  Then again, I often don’t know why I decide to do things.


you have taken yourself too seriously

You have taken yourself too seriously. That’s one of the phrases I live by.  WHATEVER the issue, whatever the matter at hand, I’m taking myself too seriously, and so is everyone else.